The Great Antidote

Kerianne Lawson on Equal Economic Freedoms

November 27, 2023 Juliette Sellgren
The Great Antidote
Kerianne Lawson on Equal Economic Freedoms
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Kerianne Lawson is a faculty scholar at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth as well as an assistant professor of economics at North Dakota State University.

Today, we talk about a lot of different topics including the implementation of property rights in South Africa through the Khaya Lam project and the realities of differences of economic freedom by gender. We talk about finding your career path and what economics is as well! 

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Juliette Sellgren 

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren, and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith works.org.

 

Welcome back. Today on November 8th, 2023, we're going to be talking about a few things. We're going to be talking about women and economic freedom. We're also just going to be talking about expanding economic freedoms generally and what that looks like in different places with respect to different groups of people. I'm excited to welcome Kerianne Lawson onto the podcast to talk about the subject. She's a faculty scholar. I almost said faculty senior, and that is not logically correct or actually what your title is at the Chaley Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, and she's also an assistant professor of Economics at North Dakota State University. I'm so psyched. Welcome.

Kerianne Lawson 

Thank you so much for having me, Juliet.

Juliette Sellgren 

So before we get started, what is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't?

Kerianne Lawson 

I was thinking about this a lot because I don't think that we're too far apart in age. I'm kind of on that millennial zoomer line myself, so I've been thinking about things that maybe I should know or things I should work towards learning in life and just thinking about people in my peer group as well. And one of the things that I've thought about is that growing up a lot of us were told, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life or you are kind of meant to just be the most passionate about your career and love every single second of your workday. Otherwise, to me it kind of interpreted it. If you aren't a hundred percent in love with what you do, it's some sort of failure or you aren't in the right line of work. And that can be pretty panic inducing for people that maybe didn't have a dream of a career growing up.

 

If you didn't know that you wanted to be a professor like me, for example, a lot of the time I was like, how am I ever going to be happy and fulfilled in life if I don't have the perfect career? Thankfully, I just kind of kept feeling my way through the dark and found that. But as I'm advising master's students and undergrads at NDSU, I've learned that a lot of students feel similarly and they've had this feeling indecisive or fear of taking that next step into a career because they're waiting for that holdout for that perfect job that feels right. And I think that's something that's important to know is that you can feel fulfilled in areas other than your career and that sometimes it takes a little while for things to fall into place. And if you expect to be a happy a hundred percent of the time, you're going to be let down and trying to find ways to let your mood not get too wrapped up in your career. So that's kind of my piece of advice maybe to myself and to others younger than me.

Juliette Sellgren (3.24)

This is a really timely piece of advice. This is something I was actually thinking about this morning, something I was thinking about before the podcast, which is maybe why I'm a little frazzled. I guess you just felt your way around the dark, but what does that actually look like? The better way to put this, what do you tell students you advise when they come to you with this sort of issue?

Kerianne Lawson 

Yeah, so I think I started to, momentum was a big thing for me. I mean, for better or worse, I just kind of kept going to the next thing and then eventually I found yourself in grad school somehow sometimes. But also I would let the feedback of, I taught a class that felt good in grad school, maybe I like being a teacher. Or you get positive feedback for something that you were doing and you're like, okay, maybe I'm actually pretty good at this. I think that I was sort of searching for that passion and it wasn't really quite there until I started. You don't get a chance to do a lot of the things that are your actual day-to-day work when you're in school. You don't get to be a teacher when you're studying education, for example, until you kind of get to those classroom experiences.

 

And that's really telling. So sometimes it's hard to know what you're going to like until you do it. And that's kind of what I tell students. If you can get any experience or any kind of glimpse into what you're thinking about would be like, that might be really telling because students that go to law school and then they start being a lawyer and they're like, I actually don't like this. That happens, and then they feel really lost. And so one of the things I say is that one, it's okay and that you can find fulfillment in other areas of your life, but also on the front end, if I can get them an undergrad, I'm trying to get them as much experience as possible, talking to people that have those careers, et cetera, about what it's like.

Juliette Sellgren (5.32)

Was there a moment when it clicked for you, when you realized that that's what you wanted to do? Or did it never, I don't know. Does a specific moment come to mind when you just knew?

Kerianne Lawson 

In full transparency… I grew up, my father's a professor of economics, so I was familiar with the career, but you don't really know everything until you're doing it, I guess. So when I was in graduate school, I remember having a student come to me on the first day of class and say, my friends recommended you to take your class. And I think that's when I started to realize, oh, you don't get your teaching evaluations. But that's a much more valuable piece of feedback for me that what I was doing was good. And also just thinking certain students or certain classroom moments, I guess moments in the classroom that made me feel like I was doing where I was supposed to be. I was where I was supposed to be. That happened a lot in graduate school, and so of course that's quite a risk at that point. You're in a PhD program and finally starting to feel like you've got your footing. But I'm glad it happened when it did.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah, I'm trying to figure out, there's something larger than this conversation, but this conversation is a very important part of it, and I'm trying to figure out about what is the pressure that my generation and seems like you've felt some of this. Why is there this pressure? Why is there this narrative? Because I don't think it was entirely intentional that you must find the right and perfect work and you must be perfect and on the first. Yes.

Kerianne Lawson (7.29)

Yeah, and that's something that has, I mean, that's been kind of, and then when you actually speak to adults that were giving that advice to us, they maybe had multiple careers or maybe that's why is that they wish that they had gotten it right on the first try. And so that was the advice. And also thinking, telling us that the passion and then being able to really change the world and that everything that we do has to have this massive impact and gravity, that's a lot of pressure to put on people that every single one of us has to change the world. I don't necessarily, I mean, I agree it's important to kind of strive to make the world better than you found it, but I mean, it can get out of control pretty quickly and be interpreted with immense weight.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah, well, it's almost like taking someone's words out of context. If you're given this piece of advice or if you're told this story of, oh, I found the perfect career, love of my life is my job, I have never felt more fulfilled than since I've started doing this. And you don't see the process it took to get there. Maybe you walk away left with this impression that there is pressure that it is possible to get it right on the first try. Whereas if you know that that's not the full story, then you can come at it a little more, I don't know, realistically, or you walk away with a fuller picture and a better understanding of, oh, well, we're all kind of similar. And again, no one has it figured out. There are certain things in life that you can't just pass down the right job for you is not something that can be passed down from generations above, I think.

Kerianne Lawson (9.20)

Exactly. Yeah. And I think that when I first thought about how I wanted to answer this question, no one knows what they're doing is the first. That was the first thing that I think that young people should know is that I think that you might see someone who's doing well or seems like they have it together and you go to them and you're like, how did you do it? And they go, I don't know. That's a really common response. And I think that's kind of the point is that no one really knows, and it's kind of an individual journey, and all you can do is try to get as much information along the way to help you.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah. Lovely. Now I'm going to pivot a little bit. Start big, get small. Cool. What is economics? What does it mean to you and how do you use it?

Kerianne Lawson (10.14)

Oh gosh. Economics is everything. It's everywhere. I think if you want to use the, it's just decision making, but if everything is kind of coming from a decision, therefore it's everything. And I try to get in the classroom, especially, I feel like a lot of the term economics or what economics is, people who aren't familiar with it have these priors going into their first economics course. And I like to challenge that on the first day and ask them, the first thing I have my students do is write down what they think economics is at the start of class. And then we have a class and then they write down a definition at the end of class, and it's never the same. You usually get things like money and how the world works or whatever, and by the end they're like, it's cooperation, it's decision making. It's just like human behavior. That's how I view it. And so therefore I can't escape it. I talk about how you can't get fulfilled in your job, but sometimes economists, it's not just a profession, it's like a personality trait to be an economist. I think.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yes, I think it is. The reason why I asked this question is because I was at a dinner with some of my family members the other day and I got asked this question and I was fumbling over my words, could not. I was like, it's a science of decision making, which is true. That is so minimal and we like efficiency and that's an efficient way of presenting it, but it's so much more than that or that when I say it doesn't convey all that, I mean necessarily, I think. So. Okay, what is the Kaya Lamb Project in South Africa? This is what I want to start to talk about because I don't know, I was looking into some things before we did this, and this is one of the things I stumbled upon, and I think it's super duper interesting. So what is this situation? What happened in South Africa that made the project necessary? What does the project do?

Kerianne Lawson (12.40)

Yeah, sure. So the Kaya Lamb Project and Kyle Lamb means my home and it's run by the Free Market Foundation in South Africa, and they do great work, and this is one of their projects, but this is one of those remnants of apartheid in South Africa that fascinated me. I studied abroad at University of Cape Town when I was an undergrad and tried to write about South Africa whenever I can in my research, just because I think it's a fascinating place and understudied in economics based off of the kind of weird institutional things they have going on there. And one of those things is that written into the constitution, the newer constitution is that everyone has a right to housing, but like I said, this remnant of apartheid, these government built houses in the townships for non-whites. They were owned by, owned the government, built by the government, owned by the government, and people were just renting or living in them for free, I guess.

 

And so the problem is when these people that have received these homes were forcibly moved from their original places of living and then move to these government build housing complexes, when they die, they aren't able to pass that home onto their children or grandchildren. And these been in the family for decades. These homes are not assets that people can use as collateral for loans. So they're basically just these kind of empty shells. And in some cases, people are still paying rent just perpetually to the government for these homes. And so it's kind of a bizarre thing that people are living in these homes. They have no legal claim to them, but they have a legal right to own and own a home. And so the Kaya Lamb Project is kind of meant to bridge that gap. The government has not been very transparent in about how people can actually get these Holmes titles transferred into their name.

 

It's a legal process. It costs quite a bit of money for the average child, African, it's about a month's salary and it's paperwork. And just given the general distrust of banks and governments in South Africa, people don't really go through this process voluntarily. So that's where Kaya steps in and says, Hey, we'll handle all the paperwork, we'll handle all the lawyers and the banks and all that, and the fees, the fees are funded through Kylie and through donations, and they transfer titles into individuals names. So these people have been living in these homes 30, 40, 50 years, and now they finally are owners of these homes so they can make changes to the home for the first time legally and use it as an asset for loans. So it's pretty transformative. So what I started first thinking about was just how this is going to completely change people's lives for the better. And so they've done a pilot program in one municipality and then have been slowly rolling it out all throughout the country. And so that's one of the areas that I've been doing research in.

Juliette Sellgren (16.21)

And what are some of the outcomes that we're seeing? What is the magnitude of change in these people's lives? What does it materially mean?

Kerianne Lawson 

Yeah, so I mean, anecdotally, we see that people are able to build on top, I mean, onto their homes. They make additions and so on. The people are running businesses out of their homes now because they've been able to maybe build a little room off the back and have a hair salon or a small shop or something like this. Also, people are able to sell their homes and move back to the cities because these townships were placed very inconveniently outside of the city so that people had to commute in for work, and that the more desirable areas inside the city were reserved for whites. So now that's starting to change. And so like I said, these really sticky aspects of apartheid where people are literally unable to move. I mean, you'd have to just abandon the home if you wanted to leave. Now they can sell the home, and they actually have a reason to leave these areas and come back to the city, which is massive.

 

And then also I find that this reduces crime. So there are a lot of different mechanisms that might explain this. One of the things is moving people might be moving from high crime areas to low crime areas. We also might see the people being able to secure their homes for the first time. So if you can't legally make any changes to your home, if you aren't an owner, you could maybe add a wall or a security system or fences or bars on the windows. Plenty of other things that help prevent property crimes specifically. So I find that after these municipalities increase home ownership, there is a decline in crime. And that can come from just people being able to more safely secure their homes.

Juliette Sellgren (18.18)

So this sort of policy, this is a question I've been dealing with a lot, especially since Oppenheimer, for whatever reason, watching Oppenheimer really made real to me, the difference between playing around with theory and ideas and then actually putting things into practice and doing them. How do you balance, I mean, obviously you're studying what people are actually already doing on the ground, but how do you reconcile or balance this idea that we can play around with theory and have an idea that, oh, well, if we try this and if we look at this, we might be able to learn some more about econ, we might learn more about what works, what doesn't, good for the world, whatever, but something that also has policy implications. I feel like a lot of the time, this is something I get asked to justify on behalf of all of economics is well, aren't you just playing with something that's kind of made up and it actually has a real impact on someone's life? And obviously in this case it's a good thing, but it's still, I don't know, some people might call it made up.

Kerianne Lawson (19.31)

I think that one of the things that really endeared me to the Kyle Land project was they went in just being everyone being, if you've been living in this home and it's your home, you deserve to own it. And if you have the legal right to own it, let's get you that house basically. And there was no kind of, and then it will do X, Y, and Z. It's never been really any part of the project's kind of goal. And I just was curious to see, I think it's a good thing for people to be able to own the home that they live in and not be paying rent perpetually to the government. So I was like, that sounds great, but I was like, there've got to be potentially some good things that can come from this. So in that sense, yeah, they are kind of just playing around and experimenting, but I'm just kind of an outside observer taking advantage of their charitable work rather than, does that make sense?

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah, it does. It does. So it kind of more sheds light on normatively what we could do in the future based on what you economically are describing based on something that's happening regardless of economics almost.

Kerianne Lawson 

Right. So this wasn't orchestrated by economists now. I mean, there are plenty of RCT type things that are done that people do to manipulate the world to see if things work. I guess that's kind of a way to think about it, but I think that can be finding nothing can also be really valuable as well.

Juliette Sellgren (21.09)

Yeah, I'm glad that in this case you don't find nothing. Me too. I don't know. It's good is what it is really. Because what I think about when I think about South Africa, especially now, I learned about apartheid a few years ago in high school, and now my most recent memory of this is watching videos. People would send me videos of just almost, I don't know if it's drone footage of the divide in housing in South Africa, and you can see very clearly what the lines are and how property is different between places that used to be separated and now are still separated, but not legally.

Kerianne Lawson 

And that's where this, some of it still is. It's not directly caused by policy, but this way that it's very difficult to move out of the township. It makes it so that these divides persist.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah. So it's good all around.

Kerianne Lawson 

Yes.

Juliette Sellgren

What can we learn from it to bring home?

Kerianne Lawson (22.29)

So I mean, in particular, just remembering the importance of property rights. There's a lot of good research done in the US about home ownership and crime, but there's also a lot that's being done now about reservations and the importance of home ownership in Native American reservations. And being in North Dakota, this is very much relevant to our region sort of topic. And so there's a lot that can be extracted from a South African type institutional setting that we can think about where people are placed in an area that isn't either moved somewhere and they aren't afforded property rights. This is very relevant to the us.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah. Awesome. So you also do work relating to women and economic freedom. What is the state of economic freedom for women at home in America and also globally around the world? How is it different in different places?

Kerianne Lawson 

So this is a good question. So economic freedom for women in the United States, I'll start there. On a legal basis, women have the same economic freedoms under the law as men and anything beyond the policy and legal stuff, it's kind of difficult to observe. But in terms of around the world, there are some pretty stark disparities between economic freedom for men and for women. And so this work is motivated. All the work that I'm doing in this area is motivated by an index called the Gender Disparity Index, which is kind of housed under the Frazier Institute. That also puts out the economic freedom of the World report. And so the gender disparity index is authored by Rosemarie Fike at Texas Christian. And so she's looking at 17 kind of questions that measure whether or not economic freedom for women is the same as it is for men.

 

It has nothing to do with the overall level of economic freedom, it's just the equity between the genders. And so this kind of recent set of research that I'm working on and others are working on is not just looking at what overall economic freedom does for women outcomes or female outcomes, but also just that equity between the economic freedoms and how that affects outcomes for both men and women. And so there are about 40, 42, depending on the year countries that have unequal economic freedom between men and women. And it seems like the general trend is that economic freedom for women has been increasing, but there are still some countries that actually have restricted economic freedom in the last couple of years for women preventing their ability to work in dangerous jobs at night, holding passports, traveling without traveling outside of the country, things like this.

Juliette Sellgren (25.54)

Okay, maybe I'm a little, I don't want to say confused, but maybe confused is just the right word, and it's just very blunt towards myself. So when we talk about the state of economic freedom and then the equity of economic freedom, am I saying this right?

Kerianne Lawson 

Yeah.

Juliette Sellgren 

What is the difference? Are they one and the same? What does it help to look at equity specifically, and what does that actually practically mean in terms of measurements?

Kerianne Lawson (26.25)

Definitely. So the economic freedom overall is on a scale from one to 10, that's how we measure it. It's a bunch of different variables split into many categories and compiled into a score and where one is virtually no economic freedom and 10, it being the highest level of economic freedom. And so in general, people are finding that higher levels of economic freedom correspond with longer life expectancy for women, higher more education for women, they're more likely to own, have a bank account, things like this. Female entrepreneurship is higher, fertility rates are lower, so on and so forth. Basically higher economic freedom. You see good outcomes for women and for men as well. But we're going to be talking about women for right now. And then the gender disparity index comes in and says, well, there are some laws that allow economic freedom for men, but not for women. And before the Economic Freedom Index overall wasn't accounting for that. So in 2015, they adjusted area two, which is the legal system and property rights area of the economic freedom index to adjust for this gender disparity. And so a country that has say a seven out of 10, but unequal treatment between men and women, and then we have a country that maybe has a five out of 10, but equal treatment of men and women in economic freedom, those kinds of nuances is what this research is getting at now. Does that help clarify?

Juliette Sellgren (28.10)

Yeah, yeah, it does. So I guess bringing it back to men, not that we always have to do that, but you mentioned it and I was thinking about going there anyways, why should men care about this? How does it help men?

Kerianne Lawson 

Yeah, so I mean, what I've found in some of the more recent stuff that I'm working on is that increasing the gender disparity index score, meaning that men and women are treated more equally, actually has benefits for all members of the society, not just for women. And there are a lot of possible explanations for this, but you could think of that if women are able to work outside the home and participate in informal business kind of behavior, they are able to contribute to the household income, which we know has good impacts for everybody. The children can go to school. We're showing this time and time again that increasing economic freedom for women. The children go to school more at a higher rate and they stay in school longer. And this of course would be great for sons and daughters and the people are living longer, they're healthier, and these kinds of things. This isn't just a female specific outcome. If women are doing well, everyone would should be doing well, is kind of the argument that I make.

Juliette Sellgren 

And so you mentioned that fertility rates are lower, and I know especially some conservatives or even people who are just worried, population sustainability, I mean, not sustainability of the earth, but sustainability of the country, two different types of sustainability here. That might kind of be a negative. Why would we give women economic freedom if we have fewer children or how is that good for the family? So it's good in terms of school outcomes, but I don't know, can you put a good spin on that?

Kerianne Lawson (30.12)

Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah. So a lot of this research, the paper that I did about economic freedom for Women in fertility was motivated by a colloquium that was put on by the Bridwell Institute at SMU, the Bridwell Institute for Economic Freedom. They put on a colloquium with gosh dozen papers all focused on economic freedom for women. So I'm going to borrow from some results from other people's papers as well as my own. But my paper finds that more economic freedom means lower fertility rates, lower birth rates, so the number of children per women, but also the number of births overall, and then also adolescent fertility rates. This in general, in the development literature, a decline in fertility rates is seen, is a good thing, an only good thing. But there are concerns about decline, women having fewer children, that you kind of have to balance that. So we have some areas where, how do I want to put this?

 

There are some countries that would benefit from having lower fertility rates for a variety of reasons. So it's kind of this complicated nuanced argument that I have to make. But one of the things that really struck me was there's the wanted fertility rate. So this is the number of children that women desire to have, and then whether or not that actually matches the number of children that they do have. And that's a measure that we have at the US level. And so a paper by Piano and Stone in this group of papers finds that when women have more economic freedom or when there's more economic freedom in the United States, that women are, that gap between the wanted number of children and the actual number of children shrinks. And so that means that the desired number of children is the number of children that people are having more, getting closer to that, which I think of as a good thing, but also in the same way that this literature builds on a bunch of papers that talk about income and fertility, that suggests that if incomes increase, fertility goes down. I don't think that anyone would suggest that the way to have more children is to cut incomes. You know what I mean?

 

And so in the same way, I'm going to argue that if we want women to have more children or we want there to be more children, we shouldn't necessarily discourage economic freedom. There are plenty of other ways to make having children more attractive, but overall, still in the developing world, declining fertility rates are a sign of progress in development.

Juliette Sellgren (33.16)

And so I'm wondering also, if you thought of looking at this or if you know anything about this, but looking at total investment in children, obviously you'd have to account for how much it costs and all of the inflation and all of that. But I would think if there are fewer children and if you actually want to have them, so if that measure is actually shrinking, if that distance is shrinking, then you'll be more willing per child to invest. And also, if the total level of investment doesn't really change or increases, then that's better for each child.

Kerianne Lawson 

I think that's a great point. I haven't specifically looked at that, and I don't know if anyone has. That's one of the things that's really struck me in working on this, and I'm really grateful to all the other papers that were in that CLO with as well, but really hasn't been a lot of work done on economic freedom for women and its effects. Part of that is just a function of the fact that the gender disparity index is relatively new. And maybe I'm not going to speculate on other reasons why, but I'm happy to be working in this area because there's just a lot of really interesting questions that are honestly low hanging fruit that are sitting right there and have really obvious policy implications. So allowing women to have bank accounts or own property or open a business on their own, what are the impacts of that around the world? I would suspect that people probably would invest more in their children if they were having the desired number of children and fewer children because even with the more resources to go around.

Juliette Sellgren (35.08)

So I guess part of me, I want to ask what attracted you to this? But then on the other hand, and I'm going to ask this at the same time, even though it's an entirely different question, what are some of the barriers to entry you're seeing in terms of minimizing gender disparities, in terms of economic freedom and all of that? And I guess what can be done about it? There's a whole bunch of questions.

Kerianne Lawson

So I'll start with the first question. What got me into this? I just write about what interests me. So I mean, my CV is kind of all over the place, but that's okay. I am a relatively scatterbrained person, so I like to have multiple kinds of papers going on in my brain. I couldn't possibly write about the same topic all the time. I would go crazy. So it's nice to have stuff going on in South Africa in one part of my brain and then be thinking about women's economic freedom in another part of my brain. But obviously the women in economic freedom thing interests me because I'm a woman probably at its core, but also because you can very easily see the policies that you can apply and the impacts of those policies. So I enjoy that part of the research as well. So these questions are very yes or no. And so when you change the answer from no to yes, basically, can a woman get a job the same way as a man? If that switches from no to yes and we see positive effects, well then we can very easily sell what policy should be prescribed. And so that's a really gratifying part of this type of research. Sometimes when you write a paper, you're like, I found this effect, but I don't really know what the solution is. And that can be frustrating or difficult to sell. Its importance. Right.

 

And in terms of barriers to economic freedom for women, that's tough because obviously a lot of this is tied to culture, and I've received feedback and maybe pushback from when I've presented this work about, yeah, we can change the laws, but if culture doesn't change or does it actually change the behavior? If women are allowed to work at night or work in an industrial job, do they actually start doing that? And that's really difficult to observe at least immediately. So culture or just norms can counteract these policies, I would suspect. And then also some of the arguments have been made for safety. So whether or not women can work in dangerous jobs and things like this, but I don't really buy that.

Juliette Sellgren (38.21)

Yeah, I mean, I feel like economics kind of tells you that the woman or individual in question should know or would know or will find out if they're well suited for that job. So I don't know, at least I tend to kind of just not roll my eyes, but raise an eyebrow maybe at that type of argument. I'm wondering what you think in terms of cultural norms. Don Boudreaux at GMU, I've interviewed him a few times, listeners go check it out. And he told me once that there's a difference between legislation and law. So in terms of policy and the rules on the books, that's legislation. But then there's law, which is the institutions, it's not just the legislation, but it's actually the way that the rules are followed and it's the unspoken or unwritten rules. So it's more than just policy. It's the norm that maybe even if you got rid of this barrier to entry into industrial jobs for women that they wouldn't because of culture. And so I guess, how would you even go about measuring that? And if you had a hypothesis that this wasn't actually, it wasn't just the legislation, it is the norm, how would you figure that out? And do you buy this distinction between the two? [Editor’s note: The distinction between law and legislation is owed to F.A. Hayek. For more, see his Law, Legislation, and Liberty.]

Kerianne Lawson (39.49)

I certainly by the distinction between the two. And in terms of measurement though, that's just part of the job, in my opinion. It's hard to distinguish, and I never expect the research to go to be perfect, but I do think that it's getting at something that's still really important and valuable. So I mean, laws on the books and the institutions I think are still connected to one another. These laws on the books didn't come. They came from something and they were motivated by something. So if you really were skeptical of, say, a country changing one of these policies around women, we might take a deeper dive into how that policy change came to be, whether there was pressure, where the pressure to change that law came from. And that might be more helpful for us to understand how effective that law change will be in terms of actual action.

 

So if it's coming from some sort of like, you need to have this law in order to join some international group or get some sort of money or whatever it is from the international community versus this is something that the people in our country want, I think that probably will determine the uptick in women's economic participation. So that's something that can be done, but it's really difficult to piece that out when I'm doing these cross-country studies. So I just usually say some sort of classic academic throwaway thing where it's like, well, it's just downward bias results, dah, dah, dah, dah. But I do take it seriously and think about it. Maybe if you were going to do a deep dive into a region or a set of countries that have made changes recently, that would be good.

Juliette Sellgren (41.42)

Yeah. And so one more question before the final question. You said that it's good for your brain that you have multiple different areas of interest when you study econ and when you actually do research, they seem to all be tied together though the rules of the game, I guess maybe that's just econ is how do people behave in terms of rules of the game? Formal or informal, but I guess it's also the study of how the rules are made. Yeah. Now I'm just thinking out loud, but I guess is there a central theme of all the work you do, and what do you think that that has taught you about studying econ or how to find what you like and what has it taught you to be optimistic about the world we live in?

Kerianne Lawson (42.39)

Yeah, I think I've done what you just said is, I've said that to myself so many times being like, what do you actually study? Is it just economics at the end of the day? But I think a lot of it has to do with the importance of individuals to be able to make choices about their daily lives, their businesses, their property. And I like to think about paper outcomes that improve individual wellbeing. So that's the kind of topics that excite me. And usually that comes with expanding freedoms, economic freedoms, mostly what I study. But, so I think that's kind of the section of economics that I like to spend my time in is if we remove this barrier or if we omit this sort of behavior, how does this improve people's lives? And that's kind of usually how I set out in a research project. I like to focus on the positive, but if these thoughts are going to consume me all day long, it's not really a kind of thing that I can just shut off. So I like to think about how things can be better for people.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah. That's awesome. That's inspiring also. Alright, so I have one last question for you. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast and for sharing all your wisdom and everything that you've learned. What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Kerianne Lawson (44.26)

Okay, so this one is a tough one. So I think that I used to more firmly believe in the, it's not bad advice, but when people say, if this thing is toxic or I don't know, whatever word you want to use, it doesn't serve you or it doesn't spark joy like Marie Kondo, then you should just remove it from your life. And for a good part of my early to mid twenties, I was Marie Kondo-ing my life pretty hard. If it didn't spark joy, I got rid of it. And I, I've found that that can be good, but it also can be kind of dangerous. We live in a world where it can be very easily to curate your whole life, to be comfy, cozy all the time from your home to your phone algorithm to the people you hang out with and everything like that. You could basically make it feel good all the time, and then there's no growth. And so I've been trying to make myself uncomfortable more often, and I think that that's something that is scary, but it's for the most part good. So that's kind of the thing I've changed my position on is I don't have to be comfy all the time.

Juliette Sellgren 

Yeah. So I guess this is maybe a weird question, but I guess what are some practical ways that you do that? It sounds so nebulous and large and positive, but also how on earth do you do that?

Kerianne Lawson (46.17)

So I read things that I disagree with. I try to talk to people that I wouldn't normally talk to. I mean in terms of traveling to places that scare you or you wouldn't normally go to, it's little things like that. I mean, those can be quite a big things actually. But things like that, just putting yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes to things that you wouldn't normally say yes to or saying no to, things that you would normally wouldn't normally say no to can be. That's when I have found, I've gotten some, I guess some moments where like, oh my gosh, I wouldn't have done that five years ago, two years ago. I wouldn't have said yes to this podcast two years ago. I am a pretty shy person actually. So this is one of those things that's like you just got to do things that put you a little bit out of your comfort zone.

Juliette Sellgren 

Well, I'm glad you're here.

Kerianne Lawson 

Yeah, me too.

Juliette Sellgren 

Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote Podcast. It means a lot. The great antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at Great antidote@libertyfund.org. Thank you.

(Cont.) Kerianne Lawson on Equal Economic Freedoms

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