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Student Spotlight: Hautahi Kingi

Hautahi Kingi, Economics

What is your area of research?

My Ph.D. focuses on two distinct topics within macroeconomics. The first investigates how migrants affect the well-being of native born workers. Concerns over this issue drive the political restrictions on labor mobility, but even after decades of research, the evidence is not conclusive. Whereas the previous literature has primarily used reduced-form regression analysis, I incorporate a search model within a heterogeneous agents framework to analyze this question from a different angle.

My second topic concerns automatic stabilizers, which are built-in features of the economy that dampen the business cycle by absorbing changes in income. For example, when your salary rises or falls, the tax or welfare system absorbs some of that change, so you don't feel the full impact of a recession or a boom. My co-author and I measure how various tax provisions such as the Mortgage Interest Deduction affect the tax system's role as an automatic stabilizer.

Separate to my Ph.D. research, I also write about income distribution in my home country, New Zealand, and the implications for Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people.

Why is this research important?

Restrictions on labor mobility are arguably the largest policy distortion in the international economy. While goods and capital are now almost completely free to roam, humans are not. Millions would greatly benefit from migration, but labor movements are restricted because of concerns about the potential negative consequences for native born workers. A deeper understanding of these consequences are crucial for developing future migration policy.

Tax provisions such as the Mortgage Interest Deduction are a fundamental part of the federal tax system that affect a huge amount of Americans. However, unlike every other part of the fiscal system, tax provisions are not generally assessed on their contribution to the macroeconomy. My research suggests that they should be.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

I've always been interested in the elegance of mathematics and statistics in describing the real world. I'm also interested In the determinants of human well-being. Economics is the ideal avenue to pursue both.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?

I am Maori. Like indigenous people everywhere, Maori suffer from poorer economic, health and social outcomes than New Zealand non-Maori. Growing up around this inequality opened my eyes to how people's lives are often dictated by economic circumstances beyond their control. My understanding of the importance of economics followed naturally from this experience.

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?

I am also one of the first cohorts of young Maori to benefit from many national initiatives such as Maori-language elementary schools and educational scholarships. As well as giving me first hand experience of effective policy, these initiatives also allowed me to meet and work with extraordinary people from all walks of life, and I owe much of my understanding of the world to them. I'm also thankful to the many brilliant non-fiction writers, particularly in the sciences, who have heavily influenced the way that I try to write and think.

What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

I like to watch, and occasionally play, rugby and cricket. I have an unhealthy emotional investment in the success of New Zealand's national rugby team - the All Blacks. I also run a lot. When the weather is warm, I like to jump off things into water and have recently taken up sailing. This may be the golden age of podcasts and TV drama, and I am obsessed with many of each, as well as the novels of Ian McEwan. Most of all, I think that time spent with good friends is the reason for living.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell because of its reputation for having extremely clever people - a reputation which I have found to be very well deserved. Carl Sagan is one of my intellectual heroes, and if he chose to spend 30 years here, it must be pretty good right?

What’s next for you?

Cornell opens a world of possibilities. My first step in exploring these will be at the centralized economics job market in January.

Any advice for incoming graduate students?

Try to get involved in as many research projects as you can, especially early in your graduate career. I would also urge people to make the most of the surrounding area - from winery tours and hiking gorges to snow-shoeing and ice fishing. Graduate life is a special time and Cornell is a special place to spend it.