CICER brings China experts across campus together

Cornell is an intellectual powerhouse of economic research on China, but until Oct. 1, 2015, when the Cornell Institute for China Economic Research (CICER) launched, experts on the Chinese economy at Cornell had no designated platform through which they could engage with others, including outside stakeholders such as researchers and policymakers. Now, CICER helps coordinate the efforts of scholars across campus and supports research to understand economic growth in China and its impact on the world economy.

CICER grew from conversations and collaborations between Panle Barwick, associate professor of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Shanjun Li, associate professor of economics in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. The two dreamed of creating a platform for Cornell economists to talk about China, but they needed funding. In 2015, they approached administrators who supported the idea and encouraged the two to push forward. The economics department, Dyson and the Institute for the Social Sciences contributed seed money allowing the institute to get up and running.

“We’ve received a lot of support from university leaders, especially President Rawlings; Chris Barrett, the deputy director of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Ted O’Donoghue, the senior associate dean at Arts and Sciences; and Laura Spitz, the vice provost for international affairs,” Barwick says.

In 2016, CICER became a program of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. Einaudi director Hirokazu Miyazaki says he’s excited about CICER not only because of its distinctive contribution to Chinese studies at Cornell, “but also because of its deeply transnationally collaborative orientation. Its innovative educational and policy-oriented activities will enhance the national and global impact of Cornell’s international studies.”

CICER’s core mission is as a research institute to conduct rigorous and impactful economic research on the most pressing social and economic issues in China. Second, it seeks to provide education and training to graduate and undergraduate students at Cornell. And third, it conducts outreach, using CICER’s research to improve policymaking in China, say Li and Barwick.

For the first several years, CICER will focus mostly on research, developing sound and policy-relevant empirical findings (several papers are already near completion). With these findings in hand, CICER will spend more efforts on outreach in China, aiming to affect policy by offering research-based findings. Any influence CICER has will have a wide-ranging impact, Li notes, since China has such significant impact on other countries.

The five key CICER research areas are defined by their relevance to policy rather than to a field, explain Li and Barwick, and include rural development; firm activities and industrial dynamics; financial and real estate markets; international trade; and environmental and energy challenges.

Current research projects include the impacts of industrial policies in China; the dynamics of firm productivity and location choices; the causes, consequences and policy choices regarding air pollution; transportation policies and the housing market; and electricity sector restructuring.

For example, Li and Barwick have been exploring how environmental changes affect the local economy and health issues, using large data sets that cover most of China, including measures of air quality and water as well as high-frequency transactional data on local economies. “For example, what are the economic consequences of congestion and air pollution? These are big problems given the pace of China’s urbanization and economic growth. What are the effective policy options to address these challenges?” asks Li.

This summer, CICER will offer its first summer camp to college students from top universities in China. “The goal of the camp is to help participants make better-informed decisions about their future career, as well as introduce them to opportunities at Cornell for graduate study in business and economics,” Li says. The camp will feature lectures by prominent professors, workshops on graduate school life in the U.S., career options, and cultural and social issues in the U.S., as well as field trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City.

In addition to the summer camp, Barwick and Li would like to organize training programs in the future for Chinese officials. “Many important decisions are made by local officials,” says Barwick. “We want to bring them here and share how our research can help inform their policy decisions.”

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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