September 4, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Abigail Hall Blanco

  • Abigail Hall

    Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Tampa
Abigail as a Student

As she was completing undergraduate studies at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, Abigail Hall Blanco was terrified to apply for graduate and fellowship programs. “I think that the uncertainty was really hard because--at least for me--when I made the decision, ‘I want to go to graduate school,’ I wanted it so badly. I think it’s a common fear among aspirational, young students.” When she encountered Peter Boettke, University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University and Director of the Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center, at a University of Louisville event, she was introduced to the economics PhD program at George Mason University. As the conversation went on, Dr. Boettke recommended the Mercatus PhD Fellowship because it would give her the advantage and preparation she needed to become a scholar in the economics field. Little did she know at the time, it would also give her lifelong mentorship, a network of colleagues and professionals, and the experience to become an engaging faculty member with her university.

In 2015, Dr. Abigail Hall completed her doctorate in economics at George Mason University as a Mercatus Center PhD Fellow. Today, Abigail is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa, an Affiliated Scholar of both the Mercatus Center and the Foundation for Economic Education, and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. She teaches principles of economics, intermediate theory, and upper division electives.

George Mason University attracted her for a few reasons: the concentrations GMU offered, namely Austrian and public choice, the faculty, and the different research programs. However, the faculty and their contributions to the realm of ideas were essential. “They (the faculty) were working on things that I was interested in learning more about and thought that I could potentially also do some research on.”

This connection with faculty proved to be incredibly beneficial through her mentor, Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Associate Director of the Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center, Christopher Coyne. “Coyne offered to work on a paper with me, and from the very beginning of that collaborative partnership he treated me as an equal partner—even as a graduate student.” Over her time as a PhD fellow, Abigail found a mentor whose insights will help her throughout her career, gained experience writing co-authored research papers and op-eds, took classes with scholars, and taught courses herself.

In addition to this mentorship, Abigail gained lifelong friends and a valuable network of professionals and colleagues. “Network is everything. I had the opportunity to go and present my research outside of academic conferences where I met many people, which is unique to GMU and Mercatus programs,” says Dr. Hall. By the time she graduated, she was already a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute and had conducted seminars at other universities.

Economic Principles and Research

Most influential on her work would be Austrian economics and public choice theory, as well as defense economics. “My biggest influences would have been reading Buchanan and Tullock because I find those arguments to be incredibly powerful. Knowledge problems, the socialist calculation debate, and how those work in conjunction with Buchanan and public choice incentive problems underlie so much of what I’ve written.” These ideas helped formulate her work as a student, mentee, and now a professor of economics herself.

“The other scholar who has really influenced me of course is Robert Higgs. [He is] someone else who again takes that very critical look and uses economic theory to analyze issues related to security and defense. I respect his work a lot and am very appreciative of the work he’s done because it has been influential on the topics I am interested in addressing and the way I go about addressing them.”

As for economic practice, Abigail values the quote from Hayek that declares economists must be dynamic in order to be great. In her own studies, she values researching policy topics outside of the usual realm of economic academia such as projects on propaganda and militarization. She has published in economics journals, law journals, peace studies journals, interdisciplinary journals, and takes insights from political science, international relations, military studies, and history.

Her first book, Tyranny Comes Home: The Domestic Fate of U.S. Militarism, was co-authored with her mentor and friend, Christopher Coyne. These dynamic rather than rigid methodologies, Abigail believes, can give her a highly competitive advantage in academic research. The training she received as a graduate student allowed her to analyze different types of questions that otherwise people in her field may not have looked at. "Based on the exposure that I've had and the training that I received, I can address those questions that may be difficult for other people in my discipline, or look at things in a different way. And if you're truly interested in being a scholar, if you're truly interested in working with ideas and figuring out how it is that people behave and how to make things better, having the ability to teach students in different ways or think of different methods for going about conducting research or solving problems, is helpful regardless of what my students decide to do. And so I'm really, really grateful for that skill set."

Her most highly recommended books for people interested in economics would be The Calculus of Consent by James Buchanan, The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

Why the Mercatus PhD Fellowship?

“Because it’s awesome. If you’re interested in learning about ideas, engaging in economics, or engaging with other disciplines, and you’re ready to be challenged and be cultivated as an effective teacher and scholar, then this is the type of place and program you need to be in. If you are one of the lucky people who get to participate in these programs, and you take advantage of the opportunity that is offered to you, then you are given everything you need in order to succeed as an academic or as someone working with policy.”

What advice does she have for new or potential PhD Fellows?

“Do not be afraid to ask questions and seek out those people who can really offer you real answers to those questions. And this would go without saying but you work hard. This is not the time to cost minimize. You’ve only got a certain amount of time that you are going to be in your program and a limited amount of time where you’re just going to be surrounded by ideas and people who are interested in helping you. Prepare yourself as a scholar and as a teacher, and take advantage of absolutely every minute that you can because it’s done so quickly. I was constantly surrounded by people who were really passionate about what they do and really interested in ideas and helping other people grow as researchers and as teachers. So take advantage of what you have because it’s an incredible gift.

What's Next?

Abigail hopes to achieve tenure in the future and plans to continue working. She just published her first book, Tyranny Comes Home with Christopher Coyne earlier this year and has another book project on propaganda in the pipeline. In her time at UT she has also had several students move on to graduate school. “That to me—I really can’t tell you—is such a source of pride and also a very surreal feeling to have the students who I had as undergraduates now in graduate programs.” She also hopes to continue working with her undergraduate students and developing new courses at the University of Tampa. “And I hope to continue to be productive in research and involved in Mercatus programs because they are still awesome and I always come away just feeling energized and excited.”

Abigail brought her talents, ideas, and experiences to Mercatus and used the PhD Fellowship to become an influential scholar in the field of economics. We hope you will join her.

 

For more information on the Mercatus PhD Fellowship, and all of the other Mercatus Fellowships offered to graduate students at George Mason University as well as other universities around the world, visit students.mercatus.org.