Meet An Alkaloid: Rocío Madera

By Katharine 2 years agoNo Comments
Rocio Madera Economic Professor

Each month, we are delighted to introduce you to one of the members of Alkaloid Networks, a coworking space on the Eastside Atlanta Beltline.

What are you working on right now?

I work remotely for Southern Methodist University in the Economics Department. I have several research papers at the moment. My favorite one studies the unequal economic gains from tourism within a city, with an application to the case of Barcelona.

In a nutshell, tourism brings in a lot of money and jobs, but also an increase in prices and congestion. Depending on where you live and where you work within the city, you are going to be exposed to one more than the other, which will determine whether you are better or worse off.

  • For example, if you live in the suburbs and work at a hotel in the center, chances are your rent and your favorite restaurant’s price do not go up. Your wage might benefit from more tourists.
  • On the other hand, if you live close to the city center but work in the suburbs, you might see your rent go up, your favorite restaurant, becoming more expensive. Your wage might be responsive to more or less tourism.

In practice, you see that most locals are in between these two extremes and some gain and some lose. In this project, we use credit card transactions and commuting data to measure the size of the positive (income) and negative (price) effects at the census block level. I’m now working on evaluating different economic policies that might redistribute towards the locals that see the bigger losses from tourism.

Who is your ideal target audience?

Most of my research speaks to policymakers. I try to get the best and most detailed data on individual behavior and build models to shed light on economic policy alternatives and counterfactuals. This can be challenging sometimes. Not everything that matters is easily measurable and not everything that can be measured matters.

An ideal client would be an institution that trusts science and scientists while still asking the relevant questions and comparing different approaches. We all try to be very transparent and honest, and most of our work undergoes peer review. We are social scientists after all and it is sometimes hard to acknowledge our subconscious bias. It is also in our interest that whoever uses our results questions our methodology until we are sure it is free of bias and appropriate for the problem at hand.

Rocio Madera Economic ProfessorWhat is a common misconception about your industry or work?

Most people think that Macroeconomics is about predicting GDP, Inflation, and Unemployment. That might have been the case many years ago, but it has already been a few decades since heterogeneity and inequality (of income, wealth, consumption…) have been at the core of Macroeconomic policy. We care about making sure everyone has the incentives to put effort, but we have found that designing a progressive economic system of taxes and transfers to redistribute and insure is perfectly compatible with that. Something we have been slow at, I acknowledge, has been at understanding and modeling structural racial and gender differences. That is where we are trying to get at now.

What is your big picture vision for your business?

More than ever it is clear that the insurance role of economic policy is important. I think the current crisis will raise awareness that policy is not to be evaluated when all goes well, but when all goes wrong. That is when what we call the “veil of ignorance” becomes more apparent. It could be US losing our jobs or getting a health shock that destroys savings even if you have been diligent in the past. I have high hopes that it is our time as economists to propose public policy that allows for efficient and productive times when possible but also triggers insurance when most needed.

What is your superpower?

Is speaking nonstop for hours a superpower? Joking aside, I think my superpower is that I am approachable. This can sometimes be challenging with both undergrad and grad students, as I try to put some distance to establish that I am the professor, but I tend to get good feedback from them on this. More broadly, I think people tend to feel comfortable reaching out and interacting with me.

What is your favorite business or productivity tool?

I would not say this is a generic business tool, but for combining scientific writing and statistical analysis, RMarkdown has saved a lot of time to produce even better work.

What book should every everyone read?

I mostly read in Spanish. At some point in my PhD I had to read so many papers that any english reading felt like work to me. I can recommend Fred Vargas for some fun crime fiction (original in French but available in English) to disconnect from work. Unless you are a detective or criminal investigator, of course.

Why Alkaloid?

Rocio Madera Economic Professor

The pandemic caught me living with my boyfriend in a 1-br apartment. Both of us have jobs where we are always away from home so size was never a problem until now. Other coworking spaces seemed too corporate and did not inspire a safe environment given the circumstances. I also love that it is so close to the Atlanta Beltline and places like Krog Street Market. I stay because I was able to find my space, the Firelight coffee, and because Katharine is the best.

If you were working from Alkaloid during the pandemic, how are you using the space?

All the time. Even on weekends. I love arriving early, just putting on my headphones, and don’t even realize what goes on around me. I think I mentioned a bit of this above. It really has saved me during this time.

What advice would you give someone considering coworking?

Just Do It!

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  Meet An Alkaloid

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