This week, we speak with Dr. Lisa Cook, a professor in the department of economics and in international relations at Michigan State University. She has served as a senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama and has held positions or conducted research at the National Bureau of Economic Research; the Federal Reserve banks of Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia; and the World Bank. As the first Marshall Scholar from Spelman College, she received a second B.A. from Oxford University before earning her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Originally expecting to pursue a career in the law, she explains how she made her way towards academia, finding economics to be “incredibly fun.”
But her deepest and most fascinating research is on the nature of violence, innovation and race: Violence and Economic Activity: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870 to 1940. She presented some of her preliminary findings to a variety of economists, expecting lots of pushback, and was instead encouraged to publish. No less a luminary than Milton Friedman pointed out how extra-legal violence interfered with the operations of the Free Market. African American patents peaked in 1899, and have since fallen dramatically. Only 6 patents per million go to African Americans in the population, versus 40 per million for women, and 235 per million for all others. She demonstrated this has a massive negative impact on future economic growth.
Cook points out that the there are 50 white entrepreneurs for every African American one. She points out that small business and start ups are the best path for economic success in America, and this growing fissure during the pandemic is highly problematic.