Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Report on the First Conference on Iran's Economy

This was a most promising gathering of economists and doctoral students interested in Iran's economy hosted by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Some of the eminent names in Iranian studies and economic research attended the conference, among them (in alphabetical order) Professors Firouz Gahvari, Hassan Hakimian, Guity Nashat, Vahid Nowshirvani, Hashem Pesaran, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani and Hadi Salehi Esfahani. The younger generation included several doctoral students from UIUC, Virginia Tech, USC, UT-Austin, Berkley, Cambridge (UK) and Goethe University (Germany). Nobel laureate Gary Becker from University of Chicago offered commentary on research on Iran’s economy. Professor Hashem Pesaran from Cambridge was the keynote speaker. The meetings were held in Illini Union.

The conference was conspicuous for several reasons. The articles presented stand apart from the mainstream research in their insight, analysis and implications. A few works even went as far as implementing new information theory methodologies to study economic issues in Iran.

The works of doctoral students were impressive both in their efforts to utilize advance theories and analytical tools and in their struggle with original data from the field. Each and every paper was welcome by several comments from well informed audience and the following discussion usually brought up new questions for further research. This was a world apart from usual gatherings where people have little idea about the realities of daily economic life in Iran and thus they are content by what they hear.

The conference also was a significant organizational success. All in academia know that organizing such events is no easy task. Special thanks go to Professor Hadi Salehi Esfahani for initiating the idea of such gatherings and coordinating the efforts and resources needed for organizing this conference and to his colleagues; Professor Firouz Gahvari and Dr. Ali Toossi Ardakani and to Iranian graduate students in economics department at UIUC, who assisted in all phases of the conference and were generously hospitable. UIUC[1] has been among the first campuses to admit Iranian graduate students to the doctoral program in economics directly from Iran and its sponsorship of this conference was a new peak in this institution’s support for research on Iran’s economy.

This certainly is but a beginning. The second conference at USC in September 2009 is expected to be attended by a larger number of researchers and doctoral students. The idea is to have annual meetings that bring together all economists who are interested in Iran’s economy with academicians from Iran; unfortunately visa problems prevented Iranian economists from attending the first conference despite organizers’ efforts and wishes. The challenges ahead are many particularly for the young researchers who have to seek employment and to qualify for tenure. They ought to balance their interests in Iran's economy and the necessities of their career paths.

The signs are promising; Iran is a taboo or deal breaker topic in academic circles no more. The growing number of doctoral students in economics from this country guarantees a continuous access to the observations from field and a dynamic link with Iranian academic centers. The road ahead is long, but there is hope that great things can be accomplished. The first Conference on Iran's Economy has confirmed and reinforced hopes for dynamic, productive and ground breaking research on Iran's economy.

[1] Another school was Virginia Tech, whose students collaborated with a few research papers offered in this conference.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First Conference on Iran's Economy

Tomorrow the First Conference on Iran's Economy will take place at University of Illinois Urbanna-Champaign. This gathering stands out for two reasons: first it is attended by many who have been working on Iran's economy for the past three decades. Second a number of young researchers are presenting their work in this conference, among them a few doctoral students and recent graduates. Thus it marks the first event where the younger generation of economists interested in Iran join the older generation who kept the work going despite all difficulties and turmoil of past three decades.
There will be a second gathering in September at USC and interested parties and researchers are invited to submit their work. Iran's economy after another sharp increase in oil prices is going through aftershocks now. Its rising inflation, the huge supply of college graduates, its success in checking population growth and fighting poverty, while inequality persists in society, make studying it the most intreseting undertaking.