Amherst Magazine

Economic Insights, on Deadline

By William Sweet

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Brian A. Bethune, who joined the Amherst faculty this fall as a visiting assistant professor of economics, may not yet be a familiar figure at the college, but his name appears time and again in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Bethune was most recently director and lead economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass., and is a longtime consultant specializing in global macroeconomics and forecasting, monetary and fiscal policies, credit markets and business and industry cycles.

People have trouble understanding what is within American control and what is not, he says. “The easiest example would be crude oil prices, [which] are determined in world markets. We tend to spend too much time fretting about where crude oil prices might be month to month, and that is more of a distraction. You probably want to be more concerned about what’s happening in domestic markets. For instance, the transportation industry does an amazing job of moving goods and services and people around with a lot of reliability, and it seems to find a way to adjust to the shocks without falling apart.”

He’s teaching a macroeconomics course that covers “some of the phenomena that we’re actually seeing in the economy,” including in China. “There has to be a new statecraft that deals with these new players. China in particular, Brazil, India—they are all becoming economic powerhouses, and I don’t think that we really know how to deal with that in a very effective way. We’re still using the old political/economic models that are, in many respects, obsolete. There’s [an] interdependence that’s evolving the same way that the interdependence of the U.S. and Europe evolved after the Second World War. We need to peel back the onion of the Chinese economy.”   

Photo by Rob Mattson