Faculty Spotlight: Tibor Besedeš

Name: Dr. Tibor Besedeš

Fields of Specialization: International Economics, Behavioral Economics, and Experimental Economics

Tell us about yourself.  Where are you from originally and why did you decide to study Economics?

I am originally from Zagreb, Croatia. When I was growing up, studying economics in college did not have a good reputation. It was considered to be a default choice for those who did not know what to major in. This was likely due in no small part to the fact that before 1990, Croatia was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the economics that was taught was not market economics. In 1993, my family moved to Budapest, Hungary, where I attended the American International School of Budapest. I was in the International Baccalaureate program and had to take economics for in both the 11th and 12th grades. The course was taught at a college level using Paul Samuelson’s textbook. And I fell in love with it. It made sense. It was highly logical, with intuitive and easy to follow cause and consequence links. It also had a fair amount of math which I always liked. I went to Texas Christian University and majored in economics, because I liked it, was good at it, and I realized I could finish college in three years without any summer school. While in college, I realized that economics can shed light on a number of interesting questions and can help us understand why and how people behave. In graduate school, at Rutgers University, this became even clearer, which led to my now lifelong interest in microeconomics, whether in the area of international trade or behavioral economics.

What brought you to the School of Economics at Georgia Tech?

I spent the first four years as a faculty member at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana prior to coming to Georgia Tech. When I decided to leave, I wanted to move to a better university, located in an urban setting in a bigger city, where there are more individuals working in my areas. Georgia Tech and Atlanta fit the bill. It is one of the best public universities, in an urban setting in a large city, with a large airport making travel easier, and the SOE had more faculty either directly working directly in or with interests in international trade. But ultimately, the main reason is – they gave me a job!

What is your favorite class to teach and why?

My favorite class is increasingly ECON 2106: Principles of Microeconomics. For many students, it is the first exposure to economics as a field of study and I enjoy the opportunity to be the one to illustrate to them how to apply the tools of economics to analyze not just economic issues, but human behavior more broadly. These are also large lecture classes which I enjoy to teach.

Talk briefly about your current research.

I am working on several projects in international trade. With several graduate students, I am looking at the effect of international environmental agreements on international trade. I also have two ongoing projects examining the effects of international trade agreements, one focusing on their effect on how long countries trade various products and on the growth of trade in those products, and a separate one on whether phased reductions in tariffs after trade agreements are signed have differing effects on trade flows. Finally, I have an ongoing project examining the effect of natural disasters on trade, focusing on consequences of the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which in 2010, caused the closure of much of European airspace over an eight day period. I have even learned how to pronounce it!

I also have a couple of experimental projects in the works. One investigates whether allowing individuals to evaluate options they are choosing from in monetary terms and in terms of happiness allows them to make better choices. This builds on my recent publication (Review of Economics and Statistics 2015) which showed that restructuring large choice sets in particular ways leads to better decision making. A different projects employs functional MRI scanning to investigate the factors that trigger strategic decision making, performance on the cognitive reflection test, as well as how individuals evaluate either free options or discounts.  

What do you consider to be your largest accomplishment?

Having a happy family and becoming a U.S. citizen, something that seemed impossible growing up.

What is the most interesting and/or challenging part of your job/research?

The most interesting is figuring out how to identify data needed to answer intriguing questions. The most challenging is how to package everything in a way that journals and referees find it worthy of publishing.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Reading and spending time with my family. I also enjoy wasting time playing a good video game. 

What is your favorite book and/or TV show?

From all the books I have read I remember four the most, so they have to be my favorite ones: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, In Desert and Wilderness by Henryk Sienkiewicz (the only two books I have read twice), We Were Soldiers Once … and Young by Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.  My favorite TV shows are Game of Thrones, X-Files, NOVA, and Frontline.

What advice do you have for potential and/or current students in Economics?

From the point of view of my current job and how I got here, how much easier my life would have been had I taken more math courses. And I was a math minor! In more general terms, it would be that economics is all around us and it is easy to apply the tools of economics to better understand the world and navigate it. The ultimate answer to just about anything is MC=MR!