Host Jim Ray interviews Dr. Abigail Hall Blanco, Associate Professor of Economics at Bellarmine’s Rubel School of Business. Abby has been featured in Forbes and other national media. We’ll discuss how she brings a current events perspective into the classroom to challenge her students to apply economics to their understanding of these events.
Dr. Hall Blanco grew up in Louisville and attended Bellarmine University. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics. She later earned her Master’s degree and PhD from George Mason University. She spent 5 years teaching at the University of Tampa before joining the Rubel School of Business faculty in 2020.
Some of the course Abby teaches include Principles of Micro Economics, Principles of Macro Economics, Intermediate Theory and a special topics class called Public Choice – the economics of politics. She’ll teach the senior research course in the spring. She’s previously taught Defense and Peace Economics, among others.
Students are often surprised about where they can apply economic frameworks. Abby enjoys watching them apply those frameworks to actual, current events. The application of economics to real world situations often helps the class to better understand the material.
One of Dr. Hall Blanco’s graduate professors made a statement that stuck with her. “We can think about economics like a set of eyeglasses or a set of contact lenses. When we put them on, we focus on issues that we might talk about in other disciplines…but we can talk about them and focus on different things.” Coming from a liberal arts background, we put on many different pairs of glasses and the result is a really comprehensive view of an issue.
Abby was recently featured as a guest host on a podcast by the Pegasus Institute in Louisville. She’s always been interested in economic development. The topic covered some of the failures of the efforts to improve economic conditions in Appalachia over the decades. She wrote a paper in graduate school on the topic, based on a research topic she came up with as a Bellarmine undergraduate. The paper attempted to explain the persistent failure of the programs and funding meant to change the Appalachian region. There are parallels between domestic development efforts and those in international development.
Given the various areas of research Dr. Hall Blanco has explored, she tends to be invited to participate in various panels, national media and news discussions. One of her articles was published in Forbes Magazine, which lead to interviews on Minnesota Public Radio and PBS. The article focused on the sale of human organs; not exactly the most mundane of topics. It’s an example she often uses in class for various reasons.
The surprising choice of topic causes her students to grapple with the application of objective economic theory. They explore the various arguments, both pro and con. It draws in students who have many different points of views and interests. It causes her students to exercise their critical thinking skills. Most people are not trained to look at issues through an economic lens. It takes time to develop this comfort level. Abby’s goal is not to teach them what to think about economics and specific topics, rather to learn how to apply economic principles to a particular situation.
Dr. Hall Blanco was published in the Washington Times on the topic violent crimes. She focused on the spike in homicides in major cities. There’s an effort to sometimes justify or side-step the causes in a particular location by focusing on the increases everywhere else. This often allows for a shifting of responsibility by local officials. Her premise is that we should hold our local leaders accountable, rather than waiting on a one size fits all solution from Washington, DC.
Another topic dealing with the national eviction moratorium was published by the Washington Examiner and followed up by MSN Money. She explains how the concept comes from a benevolent place, but the negative and unintended consequences are going to be very problematic for both the evicted people and the landlords (many of who are mom and pop entrepreneurs, not large property management companies).
Abby quotes one of her graduate school professors on the topic of the difference between intentions and outcomes, “If you push someone off of a building, even if you do so with the best of intentions, gravity determines how he falls and it’s the same thing with economic laws.” It’s an important concept for students to understand.
Dr. Hall Blanco wrote an article for CounterPunch on the topic of militarized police. She’s written on this topic for several years. She focuses on how police have gradually adopted tactics and equipment traditionally reserved for the military. She explores how foreign intervention has impacted domestic affairs.
Abby is the co-author of Tyranny Comes Home: The Domestic Fate of US Militarism (2018, Stanford University Press). The authors argue that domestic policy and foreign policy often bleed into each other. It explores the domestic implications for foreign intervention.
Manufacturing Militarism: US Government Propaganda in the War on Terror is another book Dr. Hall Blanco co-authored. It will be published soon. She and her co-author develop a framework to understand democratic propaganda. This is different from the autocratic propaganda we generally think of in this context.
Both publications offer students the opportunity to apply those economic principles and frameworks to current events going on around them.
Abby recently spoke about the topic of engaging students who have “political priors.” People often feel there are some hot-button topics that are too sensitive to use when engaging undergraduates. The assumption is they are unwilling to engage or think critically. She pushes back on this perspective. She believes students are capable and willing to grapple with a surprising range of topics. When appropriate, she’ll introduce one of those hot-button topics to teach students about having a healthy discourse. It’s okay to disagree with someone without losing a friendship. There are topics you might disagree on, but it’s still possible to maintain relationships and mutual respect. It’s good to challenge your own beliefs, even if you don’t end up changing those beliefs.
You can learn more about Dr. Abigail Hall Blanco, at: https://www.bellarmine.edu/rubel-school-of-business/faculty/.
The views and opinions expressed during the Bellarmine on Business podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Bellarmine University, its administration or the faculty at large. The episodes are designed to be insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining.
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