We are in the middle of the first period (two courses for each period, every period of around two months, for the Master in Economics of Public Policy and management and the tracks of International Economics and Business) and I would like to describe some of our work as master students. In particular, let's give a snapshot on our group project.
This is a project correlated -at least for EPPM students- with both courses of period 1 (Empirical Economics and Public Economics) and will end up in a paper to be evaluated, under different perspectives, in each of the two courses.
The interest of the project paper relies to the fact that it's a first occasion to experiment directly what it means to conduct a research in the field of Economics. On this regard, we were left as students with a high level of autonomy: once assigned the groups, any of them received only a general indication about its topic; the regard on which this was to be investigated and the direction we were to give to our research, was up to us.
In particular, my group (and I would like to mention the other three glorious components: Charlotte, Agniezska and Thomas), was assigned to update the work conducted by Goodin in 1999 and published in the book “The real worlds of welfare capitalism”. There Goodin was comparing, under numerous regards, the welfare states's performances of US, Netherlands and Germany from 1984 till 1994. Our initial task was to calculate the same indexes for the German welfare state during the following 15 years, to find out how the performances of its welfare system had been changing over time.
This would have been indeed an original and interesting result in itself. Problem was that, unfortunately, the aim of the research appeared to be too vast, while the data sets for the work (whose finding is in itself a considerable part of the research) revealed to be huge and not easy to find.
As a group, we then decided to focus on a particular aspect of the comparison conducted by Goodin: the category of autonomy, which relies on the extent welfare states are able to allow their citizens a freedom of choice in allocating time between work and leisure. It appeared that Goodin himself, in further works, was developing this category in the notion of post-productivism, an ideal conception of the welfare state on which our professor of Public Economics, Groot Loek, has been working for a considerable time. Thanks to Loek we discovered that post-productivism is it-self related to the notion of decommodification, developed by Andersen.
By studying the scientific literature related to the two concepts (and the library of Utrecht University Library gives you access to a huge amount of online papers) we found out that it was all somehow relying over a non-seen, implicit, fundamental basic assumption. There we found our research question, and the sense of our work: we are going to verify this assumption, thanks to the empirical datas on OECD welfare states.
So, once done the theoretical definition of the research, we started with the empirical part: find out the datas, think of the variables we would need, look for as many as possible control variables traditionally associated with our questions... And then? We are still on that. But next step will be to actually run the regression, deal with eventual problems and finally discuss the results.
Anyway, the point in all this description is that from a given starting point, we had to look, think, analyze and reflect by ourselves. We were only given a general track, and deepening it we arrived somewhere else, and from there somewhere else, until we found a specific restrained field in which our work could have a little meaning in itself. And apparently, scientific research is told most of the time to be something like that. For us as students this is extremely useful, both to learn how to apply what we were learning during courses (and -especially for econometrics- it is indeed not easy to apply something already hard to understand), and to find out wether the work of research (in some of its various levels) should be fitting for us. To me, it looks really interesting, but I still don't know wether we will finally produce a good paper or not.
By the way we are not alone: our professor of Public Economics and our tutor of Empirical Economics are guiding and helping us, mainly giving returns and suggestions about the work or the hypothesis we are presenting them. We had our feedback meeting yesterday, and apparently, with some corrections, we can go on... so let's see if regressing the regressable will bring us something not to regret.