Matt Freedman Gets Closer to the Action

  • By Mark Eyerly

Matt Freedman, PhD, may have been the only person attending the Philly Auto Show who sublimated fantasies of horsepower and agility in favor of contemplating the economics of environmental damage and government regulations.

“My students think I’m crazy,” says the newest faculty member in Drexel LeBow’s School of Economics. “I’m always looking for examples to bring into the classroom.”

He looked past the sleek lines, retracting door handles and heated arm rests to focus on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new ratings of each model’s ecological impact. Should consumers care? Should the government try to get people to care? Are the EPA ratings affecting purchasing decisions? Freedman formed his lesson plan on the fly as he took photographs of the cars rated best and worst by the EPA. “I’m going to have the students guess which is which.”

Having spent the past year as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where his wife is a tenured member of the faculty, Freedman decided to relinquish his tenured position at Cornell and forego the serenity of the Finger Lakes to join LeBow’s new School of Economics and “be in a city where I’m closer to some action.”

Much of Freedman’s work is policy driven: Why do certain industries congregate together? Why don’t people move from areas of high unemployment to places where jobs are more plentiful? Should governments subsidize commercial and housing developments?

Philadelphia is a “fantastic” place to study these questions, he says.

Research for his PhD dissertation at the University of Maryland found that people who relocate to areas like Silicon Valley are willing to do so for lower earnings than they otherwise would, because a cluster of firms will produce faster earnings growth over their lifetime than if there was not an industry cluster present.

Freedman’s current research focuses on why clusters arise in some places and not others, and whether tax breaks can help create a cluster, or whether governments merely subsidize development that would have happened anyway, with private sector support. He plans to collaborate with Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy.