Student Says Economics Research Leads to a Better Personal Understanding of the World
Student Says Economics Research Leads to a Better Personal Understanding of the World

by Jackie Hennessey
UNH Today Contributing Writer

When Kevin Lauber ’16 was part of the U.S. Marine Security Force for the White House Communications Agency, he traveled the world, providing armed protection for the President of the United States, the director and members of the National Security Council and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He developed a keen interest in U.S. policy, particularly regarding the Middle East.  

That interest only grew when he came to UNH to pursue a degree in economics with a concentration in behavioral economics and a minor in Arabic language and area studies. He wanted to research how drone activity affects the economy in Pakistan and whether it gives rise to insurgent terrorism.

Kevin Lauber ’16 with President Obama

He brought the idea to Armando Rodriguez, associate professor and chair of economics, who heartily encouraged him to pursue the research.

Lauber theorized that there was a causal relationship between U.S. drone strike activity and economic stagnation in Pakistan, and he set out to see if that was the case. “There are studies which suggest that poor economic conditions in a given area create social environments in which militant activities can operate,” Lauber said.

He is quick to point out that while he has found a correlation between an increase in drone strikes and an interruption of the steady growth of certain economic variables in Pakistan, “it is imperative to understand that a correlation does not automatically mean causality,” he said. “There are many unobserved factors involved, especially in such a frontier as the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This correlation is only a starting point, indicating that careful and proper analysis is required.”

Rodriguez has said that a common misperception about economics is that it centers on monetary and financial topics when, in fact, it is “both a lens and a vocation – an essential tool for understanding the complexities of modern society and a vibrant social science that ranges across all fields relevant to humanity,” he said.

The economics faculty encourage students to take risks, to pose interesting questions that connect to many different aspects of the human experience and to follow the research questions where they lead.  

Lauber likes having the opportunity to study the behavior of economic markets in response to certain stimuli. “I think our drone policy in Pakistan today is a relevant economic and human rights issue,” he said. “There are important policy implications if economics gives us a way of understanding the behavior of insurgent terrorism.”

One of the biggest challenges in his research is finding meaningful data. “National instability makes it very difficult to retrieve accurate and unbiased data, and the understandably classified nature of the drone program furthers this difficulty,” he said. “There is also the possibility of clandestine activity and other unobservable factors, such as illegal trade, that can play a role. We can only do so much with the information we have available to us today.”

Lauber has worked steadily on the project and said that, even after his thesis is complete, he’d like to continue to delve into it.

“I have not yet worked out the econometric models to such an extent as to produce novel, groundbreaking conclusions,” he said. “Perhaps in the coming years, and with the availability of newly observed data, I can further my research and humbly provide a substantive work for the academic community. They call it data mining for a reason. Tomorrow I may strike oil.”

Lauber said that the encouragement of Rodriguez and his other professors has helped him continually grow as a thinker and researcher. “UNH has an environment that allows students to work closely with the professors to develop our skills,” he said. “I firmly believe that I would not have the same experience and educational growth elsewhere. I am able to work closely on my research with a brilliant collection of professors with varying backgrounds who have helped in my growth as a student and in my professional development.”

He says his research work will play a key part in his future career. “The best and most important part of my research, and of any research, is developing a better personal understanding of our world,” Lauber said. “To me, there is nothing more valuable. More broadly, governments use academic research to shape their policies. Even if the hypothesis is incorrect, the work is not without merit as it still provides an insight into how the world works.”

After graduation, Lauber plans to work in the private sector, but he said he would always consider working in Washington, D.C., either in intelligence or policy making.

“A career that creates a positive impact can take many forms,” he said.

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