Professor Michael Stanaitis, SIS/PhD '17, recently graduated from SIS and now teaches in SIS's online MA in International Relations program. His research focuses on international political economy and emerging economies. We spoke to Stanaitis about his research, why he loves teaching online classes, and why the US's declining control of the global economy isn't a bad thing.
What are your main areas of research?
My research focuses on international political economy, specifically the structural determinants of global trade openness. My dissertation examined why trade has grown at a time of seeming hegemonic decline. I developed this notion of global economic deconcentration to understand how global trade openness has increased in the post-War era and remained resilient throughout the most recent global financial crisis. This is due to the involvement of emerging economies, which is a bit counterintuitive. Classical theorists in international political economy suggest you need a strong economy or a group of strong economies to work tightly together, but my findings suggest that loose cooperation among states in a more deconcentrated global economy can also provide stability through times of crisis, thereby preserving openness. These claims are based on my analysis of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and large-N statistical analyses going back to 1960.
What implications does this research have for how we look at emerging economies?
I tell my students that trade used to be a relatively boring topic, but it isn't anymore. A lot of that is due to Trump and the resurgence of economic nationalism in the West. One of the big implications from my research is that US decline is not necessarily harbinger of bad things for the global economy. The global economy can survive and thrive without US leadership and US control. To what extent is the resurgence of economic nationalism and protectionist tendencies of Trump and other western economies going to undermine the system of global trade openness? I think the concern is exaggerated.
Another major implication of my research is that if we want a steady, open global trade regime and stability in the global economy going forward, we should focus our efforts on economic development abroad. Our focus should be on pulling these emerging economies up and pulling developing countries into the emerging economy category, rather than worrying about the US losing control and leadership of the global economy. Arguably, that US-centric view was never really accurate, and certainly it's not now.
As a professor working completely with the online program, what do you think is the value of online education?
I think it's huge. I have taught in the online program for five years now, previously as an adjunct while working on my PhD and now full time. There is a diversity of students who have come through the online programs. I have very driven students who would not be able to get a master's degree unless it was offered online, so there's a social justice factor as well. It makes education available to a population to whom it would not have been available otherwise. I've found that I have great academic experiences and wonderful engagement with an intellectual community that wouldn't be able to exist if the online program wasn't offered.
I'm torn, in fact, between what environments I enjoy teaching in more-on campus or online. There is a performative aspect to teaching online that doesn't quite work on campus. When you are being recorded, there's a sense that this is a performance you have to nail, that you have to capture these students. On campus, it's a bit harder for a student to get up and just leave the classroom. Online, they simply have to click a button to leave. I always have it in the back of my mind that my goal is to captivate these students, so I really work on that.