Applying Economics to Societal Issues: Meet New Professor Tyler Giles
Tyler Giles, assistant professor of economics at Wellesley, is one of several new faculty members the College welcomed in fall 2022. This article is part of a series of interviews with new faculty members we’ll be releasing in the coming weeks (check out our conversation with Anny-Claude Joseph, assistant professor of mathematics).
For most of his life, Giles didn’t consider himself to be “good” at math, but his interest in social well-being and public policy led him to examine the outcomes of policies at the individual level by studying public economics and the economics of risky behaviors.
Giles’s research, which quantifies the costs and benefits of government intervention in the economy, inspires him to figure out the best policy solutions. “It’s one thing to show that the social safety net boosts individual consumption and expenditures,” he says, “but it’s another to show that it keeps people out of jail, lowers the likelihood of substance abuse, or prevents tragic loss of life.”
Morgan Gallegos: Your work focuses on applied microeconomics and the intersection of public finance and the economics of crime. Could you explain what that entails?
Tyler Giles: Sure! The “applied” part of “applied microeconomics” means that I’m an empirical researcher, and the “micro” part means that I study behavior at the individual level. Applied microeconomists like myself spend their time trying to find clever ways to estimate, not just correlations, but causal effects of policies and individual opportunities.
The causal effects I’m interested in knowing about typically involve aspects of public finance (i.e. government spending and taxation) and/or the criminal justice system. For example, I have work that attempts to estimate the causal effects of increases in criminal court fees for lower-level offenders on their future criminal behavior and financial health, as well as local government budgets.
These fees are basically taxes, and we economists spend a lot of time thinking about taxation! In a broader sense, a lot of my research attempts to apply fundamental theoretical insights from economics to aspects of the criminal justice system.
Gallegos: What was your path to Wellesley?
Giles: I attended a small liberal arts college where I mainly studied accounting and economics. I was really inspired by the faculty there and thought how great it’d be to have that same job. After taking a gap year to polish up my math skills, I started my Ph.D. in economics at the University of Notre Dame. I joined Wellesley right out of graduate school.
Gallegos: What impact do you want to have on students?
Giles: I hope that my attitude and enthusiasm in the classroom give the students some social proof that economics is indeed fun, fascinating, and helpful for addressing many of the most pressing societal issues. I also hope that I’m able to make the mathematics of economics seem less intimidating, because I understand how unapproachable mathematical notation and language can sometimes feel. I had labeled myself as a “bad at math” person for most of my life, and it wasn’t until I had a series of terrific instructors in college that I saw the fun and appeal of math. I hope I can help initiate similar re-labelings for students in my situation.
Gallegos: Here are some rapid-fire questions for you to close out the interview. If you could have dinner with any person (living or dead), who would it be?
Giles: Spaghetti dinner with Prince at Paisley Park.
Gallegos: What is your favorite spot on Wellesley’s campus?
Giles: The little bridge by Paintshop Pond. So quaint!
Gallegos: Is there someplace in Boston you’re looking forward to exploring?
Giles: Much to my shame and the disappointment of some of my colleagues, I haven’t yet been to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, so that’s high on my list of priorities.
Gallegos: What would be the title of the book about your life?
Giles: OK, this is probably cheesy, but I’m a big fan of the metaphor of the moon in relation to individual achievement. The moon shines in the night sky, but it doesn’t produce any light of its own, it merely reflects the light of other heavenly bodies. It’s the same with my life—all my accomplishments are reflections of the love and care of friends, family, teachers, etc. So I’ll go with A Million Reflections or something like that.