Meet our Faculty Advisory Board Member Dean Stansel and learn more about his work and research.
Did you always know you wanted to work on economic freedom or did something make you shift your focus towards it?
I’ve always been interested in public policy. I got involved constructing policy measurements right after college as a research assistant at the Cato Institute, where I helped build their first “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors,” now in its 15th edition. So, it was a natural fit for me when I was given the opportunity to work with the Fraser Institute on their annual Economic Freedom of North America report, ranking the states on their economic policies.
You published the first local economic freedom index for U.S. metropolitan areas. Why do you consider that it’s also important to measure economic freedom locally?
Just as there are variations in public policies across states within countries (think Texas and Florida vs. California and New York), there are also variations across localities within (and across) states. Economic policies in a city like Austin can be quite different from those in a city like Dallas. Focusing only on countries or states ignores that diversity. The next logical step was to drill down to the local level.
You are the primary author of the Economic Freedom of North America annual report and have been working on it since that year. Would you say you have seen the world move more towards economic freedom, the opposite or simply not moved?
There are not big movements from year to year, but both at the state level (within North America) and the country level, there was a small increase in economic freedom in the U.S. and in the average for the world as a whole over the period 2013-2018. (There is a two-year lag in the data.)
Findings from one of your latest research projects (https://www.cato.org/cato-journal/fall-2020/immigration-state-institutions-does-region-origin-matter) indicate that states with a larger percentage of immigrants in their population do not have significantly different economic policies, which therefore helps dispel some arguments that say that immigrants are bad for a country’s institutions. Could you tell us more about your findings on immigrants and economic institutions in the U.S.?
Some opponents of immigration claim that too much of it can lead to a degradation of governing institutions, as people fleeing countries with bad public policies will somehow bring those policies along with them. It seems more likely that they would oppose those policies and self-select into countries affording more freedoms. My Bridwell Institute colleague, Meg Tuszynski, and I recently examined this question using data over three decades for all 50 states, and found virtually no evidence of a significant relationship between the levels of immigration we have experienced in recent decades and a decline in “economic freedom” (a measure of the level of government intervention in the economy). This confirms previous findings and provides some evidence that restricting immigration out of fear it could harm American institutions is misguided.
Why did you decide to become a Faculty Advisory Board Member of the Texas-Mexico Center?
Since I was still fairly new to SMU at the time, I was pleased to be invited to join the Center’s inaugural Faculty Advisory Board. Some of my own research involves state-level economic policy, so it was a good fit research-wise and it has provided a great opportunity to interact with other scholars from around campus and elsewhere. The Center does great work supporting research on the importance of the Texas-Mexico relationship (including my own work, with my colleague Meg Tuszynski, on trade between states in Mexico and the U.S.), and I was happy to recently be invited to renew my appointment.
Dean Stansel is a Research Associate Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Institute for Economic Freedom in the Cox School of Business. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Wake Forest University and a Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University . Prior to entering academia, Stansel worked for seven years at the Cato Institute, where he authored (or coauthored) more than 60 publications on fiscal policy issues.