June 22, 2011 by Justin Bannister, NMSU News Center
Want to know how to solve America’s $1.5 trillion budget deficit? Just ask Jim Peach, an economics professor at New Mexico State University. He’s taught at NMSU for the last 31 years and his debt solution is spelled out in five minutes. Spoiler alert: his plan takes care of the budget gap in two years, and most of it is accomplished without any significant policy changes.
Peach has made a habit of tackling difficult economic issues impacting the state, regional and national economies. He studied the effects of the NAFTA free trade treaty in the 1990s and was sought after for analysis following the recession in 2008. He routinely gives public presentations on the state of the economy, testifies before legislative committees about policy issues and writes about his findings for other scholars to read.
“I have no illusion about how powerful I am. I’m not,” Peach said. “But every now and then, you can see how you tweaked something at the edges that might be worthwhile.”
So, how does a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, whose true passion is sports of all kinds, get into economics in the first place?
“Poverty is a good one-word answer,” he said. “It struck me a long time ago that we have the resources and technology to produce anything we want to. Yet even today, we have two billion people in the world living in abject poverty. People say there aren’t enough resources to go around, but that’s clearly nonsense. We can produce what we want. Why is it that in the U.S. we currently have 15-25 million people unemployed or underemployed? That’s a policy decision. That’s not something handed down to us in nature. It’s policy. Why do we have a glut of houses on the market, and so many homeless people? Why can’t we make that match? There is some kind of disconnect there.”
Peach is currently studying energy market issues – the economic effects of importing vast amounts of oil as well as the environmental impacts of using fossil fuel.
“That’s an important issue for all of us. We import a lot of oil into this country and we potentially are damaging the environment. Reasonable people can disagree on how much that is, but I think we are at the point where we can’t take a chance. What we need to do is pursue some alternative energy strategies, but that doesn’t mean that oil and gas are going to go away anytime soon.”
One of Peach’s specialties is studying the impact policies and organizations have on economies. In the last few years his studies have looked at the economic impact of restructuring tuition rates, building Spaceport America and operating a university like NMSU. Unfortunately, the economic impact of teaching and researching economics for three decades is more difficult to encapsulate.
“You can’t quantify it,” he said. “It’s the immeasurable things that are the most important. How many students did you teach? That’s measurable, but means next to nothing. I recently received an email from former student from the early 2000s who said I had inspired him to complete his Ph.D. 10 years after taking my class. How do you measure that? I am not unique. Most faculty will tell you similar stories.”
There’s good news for economics students as well as those seeking more knowledge about the economy, Peach still really enjoys his job and plans to keep going for a while.
“I’ll be here until it’s not fun anymore,” he said. “I have no immediate plans to retire. One day I’ll wake up and I’ll know that it’s time.”