For Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Tino Sonora, the study of economics is sometimes complicated, but also deeply interesting and, yes, even fun. Choices made, even a world away, can have ripple effects across the globe, felt right to our doorsteps. Understanding the effects of choices is what drives Dr. Sonora.
“I think most people think of economics as inflation and unemployment, but economics is the study of choices,” he explains. “Whatever choice you make is an economic one and can be studied, and that’s what I hope the students get out of it.”
The broad nature of economics has led him all over the world. He only recently returned from a trip to Croatia as a Fulbright Scholar where he both taught and conducted research into one of the world’s current hot button issues: the future of the Eurozone and European Union, the latter of which Croatia just joined in 2013.
“One of my fields is transition economics, which is looking at how former Soviet-style economies transition into Western-style, market-oriented types of economies.”
The question is: can the economy of a country like Croatia fully integrate with other European countries, like Spain or Germany, and, if it can’t, what is the degree of integration possible?
“For example, let’s use the United States’ cities as an analogy for the Eurozone’s member countries,” Dr. Sonora suggests. “The US ‘city-states’ share common fiscal policy and monetary policy. Does fiscal and monetary policy choices necessarily impact each city-state symmetrically? Of course, the answer is no. You’re going to hurt some and help others. Eurozone countries have the same monetary policy, but individual fiscal policies and this undermines the degree of economic integration.”
The impacts of choices made on individual countries and financial institutions was something that Dr. Sonora believes most economists underestimated, at least until the financial collapse in the latter part of the previous decade.
“I think it took a lot of people by surprise at just how interconnected financial markets were. I know there was some surprise even within the United States about how interconnected, say, Lehman Brothers was and how that was almost able to bring down Merrill Lynch and other large investment banks - that caught quite a few people off guard.”
Dr. Sonora’s work has led him to be considered an economic expert among many media outlets. He also heads the Fort Lewis College School of Business Administration’s Office of Business and Economic Research, giving numerous presentations to civic and local groups. Both are roles that help him use his research for the public good, as well as drive his own curiosity.
This tangled web that the study of economics seeks to understand, the implications that one disturbance in one part of the web has on the whole, and how the web works together for both good and bad is what fascinates Dr. Sonora. The freedom to study what fascinates him is what drew him to Fort Lewis College, and that’s part of the philosophy he wants to impart to his students.
“I think of myself as an economist who teaches. I don’t think of myself as a teacher. Rather, I think of myself as an assistant to learning. I’m first and foremost an economist, and hopefully I bring that passion for what I do to the classroom.”
His passion for research seems to be rubbing off on his students. For example, in 2012 he introduced an econometrics course, which is a very research-intensive look at economics. His first class last year had six students. This year the class has tripled in size.
The idea that economics is the study of choices and the effects of those choices can touch everything around us is what drives Dr. Sonora to find the next question and the next challenge. If he can inspire that kind of drive in his students, then maybe the impacts of the next worldwide economic crisis can be averted, or at least better understood, by the Dr. Sonora-trained economists of the future.