For our first post of the New Year, we’d like to introduce you to our newest MPP faculty member: Shu Wang, who joined the MSU faculty in fall 2015.
Wang, who grew up and China and obtained her Bachelor’s in Political Science at the prestigious Renmin University of China, has since become an expert on U.S. government and public administration: she has a Master’s in Public Administration from Columbia University, an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago; she has also worked as a fiscal analyst for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Last semester Prof. Wang taught an introductory statistics course to students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program. This semester, she’s drawing more directly on her research and work experience to teach an MPP elective about management issues in the public sector and challenges faced by public managers during fiscal distress—topics that are highly relevant to MPP students who hope to work in state and local government. “I’m really inspired to teach this class!” says Wang. “The big message I want to give out is: don’t ever underestimate the importance of the day-to-day.”
Fascinated by Federalism
Growing up in China, Wang is fascinated by drastic changes in society brought about by various policy reforms. Her parents had spent some time in Sydney, Australia when she was four, and set an example for her with their curious minds and adventurous experience. After she finished her Bachelor’s degree she decided to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. “As a nosy, curious person I wanted to find out for myself what was out there,” she says.
In the U.S., Wang found herself fascinated by the juxtaposition of Americans’ strong sense of national identity with our fragmented system of government, in which policies can vary greatly among states and municipalities, and the jurisdictions of federal, state, and local governments often overlap and even contradict one another. “The autonomy of decentralized governments, but also their limitations, is really fascinating to me,” says Wang.
Investigating Tax Avoidance by Picking up Litter
One of Wang’s most interesting academic projects prior to joining MSU’s faculty involved researching the effects of different state and local tax rates on consumption—by picking up thousands of littered cigarette packs! Wang was part of a team at the University of Illinois at Chicago that investigated the extent to which differences in cigarette-tax rates between states resulted in consumers crossing borders in pursuit of lower prices. Wang helped to supervise researchers who pick up littered packs in 36 states and recorded whether stamps affixed to them by state tax authorities corresponded to the states they were picked up in, or to others.
Wang and her colleagues estimated that the tax-avoidance rate in the states examined (the percent of cigarettes purchased in jurisdictions in lower taxes rather than in smokers’ state of residence) was as high as 25%—much higher than other, less hands-on studies that estimated about 10% avoidance in high-tax jurisdictions. According to Wang, the two key drivers of such cross-border shopping are the difference in tax rates and the distance to a lower-rate jurisdiction. The policy implication, Wang says, is that in places like Chicago and New York City, located close to borders with states that have much lower cigarette taxes, governments might actually generate more revenue by lowering cigarette taxes (and thus losing fewer sales to retailers across the border). While Wang enjoyed this unconventional research project, it also created some unusual challenges: “At my office at UIC I still have five thousand packs that I need to get rid of because it’s a public health problem!” she says.
Proud to be a Spartan
Wang says it’s a privilege to work at MSU and for the MPP program. “This program is so highly regarded in public administration,” she says. “I feel it’s really a huge blessing that I can be here! The colleagues are wonderful, they are very collegial and I learn a lot from them. We have similar interests and there are also different takes on some issues that we can compare perspectives on.”
Wang says she also appreciates how passionate program director Prof. Valentina Balí is about the Master of Public Policy.
And Wang has lost no time in getting into the Spartan spirit: she already has Spartan outfits, a Spartan mug, eats at the cafeteria “way too much,” and even has two Spartan apps on her phone.
“Policy Affects Everyone’s Life”
Wang also has some words of encouragement for current MPP students: “Policy affects everyone’s life, so the skills you obtain really can be applied both in the public and private sectors. Any organization with a broad, long-term vision will see the value in the skills you’ve acquired. You really have a large world out there that can utilize what you’ve gained here. All the MPP students should really be proud of themselves.”