Romain Wacziarg is a professor of economics at UCLA Anderson School of Management and holds the Hans Hufschmid Chair in Management. He joined the faculty in 2008 to expand the international research focus of the school’s Global Economics and Management area.
Wacziarg seeks to understand what explains economic performance. This broad topic can be tackled on several levels: What make individuals successful? What makes organizations successful? What makes countries successful? It’s the last question that preoccupies him most. Better understanding the sources of the wealth of nations is an age-old endeavor that goes back at least to the days of Adam Smith.
A major facilitator of the spread of wealth and modernity is globalization. By reducing barriers to the flow of goods, people, capital and especially technology, globalization can lead to the spread of wealth around the world. The examples of India and China, which in recent decades joined the global economy, are cases in point. As Wacziarg points out: “Barriers to the exchange of ideas across cultures and civilizations are most often overlooked, yet huge gains in prosperity could be made by spreading technologies around the world.”
Another major theme of Wacziarg’s research is to study the causes and effects of the global spread of democracy over the last few decades. Is democracy a luxury good that only wealthy countries can afford, or does democracy promote prosperity? Both views have something to contribute. Democracy often ensures the stability and predictability that can make businesses thrive in the long run, even if it is not always a panacea in the short run. And countries definitely become more democratic as their populations become more educated and wealthier. So over the long sweep of history, democracy and wealth go together.
In a more recent set of papers Wacziarg has researched how deeply rooted features of societies affect their economic performance today. These features include the historical legacy of geography, ethnic divisions resulting from complex historical paths and the cultural traits inherited from ancestors. All these features have effects on prosperity today, and the challenge for economists is to understand how to overcome the constraints that these historical factors create for growth, particularly in poor countries. As Wacziarg states: “Features of societies that are deeply rooted in their history have a surprisingly persistent effect on economic performance today. The silver lining is that globalization is reducing the weight of history by gradually eliminating barriers to the spread of prosperity.”
Wacziarg is also passionate about teaching. He regularly teaches Managerial Economics, a core class in the full-time MBA program. He teaches electives on the business environment of India (culminating in a study trip there), on the big macroeconomic trends of today (such as the recent financial crisis), as well as a Ph.D. course on methods in political economy. “I believe firmly in the mission of our business school,” he says. “Management matters hugely for performance, and better management can absolutely be taught in the classroom. The most gratifying aspect of teaching managerial economics is to witness, year after year, how students’ understanding of the world around them changes after a mere 10-week quarter.”