PhD in Economics

Nathan Goodman, 2021

Nathan Goodman

Describe your dissertation or thesis (if you completed one):

My dissertation uses economics to analyze the various ways that people aim to provide security. I study how different approaches to security create different incentives for the people involved, as well as the use of knowledge within different security apparatuses. This has meant analyzing a variety of different types of security provision. The first chapter of my dissertation, "Polycentric Defense," offers a theoretical critique of the orthodox view of national defense as a public good. In addition, it offers a variety of empirical examples of defense and security provided by non-state actors at multiple scales. These cases illustrate the diversity of institutional arrangements used to provide defense in the real-world and cast further doubt on the applicability of the orthodox “defense brain” view. Chapter 2, “Sounding the Alarm: The Political Economy of Whistleblowing in the U.S. Security State,” analyzes American national security bureaucracies. Building on the public choice literature, we argue that these bureaucracies are characterized by multi-layered principal-agent problems that open the door to opportunism. These principal-agent problems are present in all public bureaucracies within democratic states but are exacerbated by official secrecy within the national security state. We argue that whistleblowers within these bureaucracies possess local knowledge that is often not accessible to citizens or legislators, and that by whistleblowing they help alleviate principal-agent problems and expose opportunism and violations of civil liberties. Chapter 3, “Border Militarization as an Entrepreneurial Process,” uses insights from the literatures on political entrepreneurship, bureaucracy, and rent-seeking to explain the militarization of American border security efforts. In times of crisis, bureaucrats and politicians seize political profit opportunities associated with expanding their powers and creating new programs. These acts of political entrepreneurship create new profit opportunities for political entrepreneurs. For private contractors who work with border security bureaucracies, these profit opportunities are seized by rent-seeking and building connections with public officials to secure lucrative contracts related to the new border security efforts. For public officials, there are profit opportunities associated with applying the powers, tools, and organizations developed during the crisis to new arenas, which results in mission creep.

How did your academic experiences in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences impact you? 

I deeply appreciate the education in economics, and the social sciences more broadly, that I have received here at Mason. Perhaps the most important part of my education here has been the mentorship I have received from my dissertation committee. My chair, Christopher J. Coyne, has been an incredible mentor, co-author, and professor. He's taught me so much about how to do academic research, how to handle difficult dilemmas in teaching, how to navigate the academic job market, and how to apply market process economics to issues of defense and security. His willingness to talk with me about so many different aspects of my career has been immensely appreciated. Bobbi Herzberg has also been an incredible mentor and co-author. I was assigned as her research assistant my first year in the program, and I am so glad that I was! She's an extraordinary political economist, has been incredibly kind and generous with her time, and has taught me so much about how to analyze institutions, self-governance, and historical cases. Peter Boettke has also been an outstanding teacher and mentor. I learned so much from reading his work before I even entered the program, and taking his classes and discussing ideas with him has been an absolute joy. In addition to the outstanding research mentorship I have received, the coursework helped me grow a lot as an economist. The first year core courses in the PhD program helped provide me with a solid foundation in economic theory and methods. I particularly appreciate having had the opportunity to take microeconomics from the late Walter Williams, whose clear explanations of UCLA price theory and property rights economics have provided a vital foundation in the economic way of thinking. Dr. Williams taught us all so much about what it means to think like an economist, as well as about how to communicate core insights of economics clearly and concisely to our students, our academic peers, and the general public. And while Professor Williams was extraordinary, he was certainly not the only extraordinary teacher I had at Mason. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from Bryan Caplan, Garett Jones, Carlos Ramirez, Larry White, Richard Wagner, Peter Boettke, Christopher Coyne, Peter Leeson, and all the other outstanding faculty I had the privilege of studying with. Throughout my coursework, I was lucky to have brilliant and supportive classmates! In the Mason economics department, we have a very collaborative culture. I benefited enormously from study groups, advice from my peers, and feedback from my peers. Finally, the seminar culture, visiting scholars, reading groups, and paper workshops around the F.A. Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center helped expose me to a wide range of ideas from philosophy, politics, economics, and related disciplines. The Hayek Program is an amazing place, and I am so glad I've had the opportunity to be part of it.

What accomplishment(s) during your time at Mason are you most proud of?

A PhD program is in many respects an apprenticeship to become a researcher, a scholar, and a teacher. I am proud of my accomplishments in both research and teaching. I feel glad that I have had the opportunity to do original research on topics I think are really important, including border militarization, whistleblowing in the national security state, and the role of voluntary associations in providing anti-poverty aid. So far my research has resulted in eight publications in academic journals, as well as three book chapters in edited volumes. While research is very important to me, I think one of the most important things economists can do is educate the next generation. I've immensely appreciated the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in econometrics, intermediate macroeconomics, principles of microeconomics, and environmental economics for the citizen. I've been really proud to see how my students' careers progress, as some of them have gone on to graduate school themselves and asked me to write them letters of recommendation.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career? Please give an example of this impact if possible. 

Absolutely! The three most important faculty members to me personally have been my dissertation committee. My chair, Christopher J. Coyne, has been incredibly supportive, helping me through all manner of scholarly and professional issues. Professor Coyne and I are both passionate about using economics to understand life and death matters surrounding war, peace, security, and freedom. I am so lucky that we get to work together. Bobbi Herzberg has also been an incredible mentor! I am incredibly grateful that I was her research assistant during my first two years in the program. We continue to collaborate on research on the institutional structure of the Church Welfare Plan administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is a really fascinating topic that touches at core issues of civil society and voluntary governance. I am so grateful that Dr. Herzberg asked me to work with her on this! My third committee member, Professor Peter J. Boettke, has also been an extraordinary mentor. I learned so much from his classes, he has offered me incredibly helpful feedback on my papers over the years, and his wide ranging research on mainline economics has been an inspiration since before I even started the program. I also want to express my deep appreciation for the staff at the economics department, especially Mary Jackson. Over the years, Mary provided so much vital help in guiding us graduate students through planning out our program of study, arranging our dissertation proposals and dissertation defenses, and everything in between. Every graduate student in the department owes Mary so much!

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

Study hard in your classes and form study groups to prepare for your qualifying exams and field exams. Your classmates may understand parts of the material that you struggle with, and you may understand and be able to help them with things they struggle with. Work on research that fascinates you, and find faculty mentors who are fascinated by topics that fascinate you! Write a lot! Work hard on your research, and don't be afraid to start writing even when you're not quite sure what you think. You can always edit, and writing can help you think through issues.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

This fall, I will begin a two year postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Economics at New York University. While at NYU, I will be affiliated with the Program on the Foundations of the Market Economy. In the long-term, I want to become an economics professor. I really enjoy teaching economics and doing research on economics. I hope to have the opportunity to do so for many years.