Security in Numbers: Martin Feldstein (2nd from right) with students Melissa Eccleston and Bill Gallagher, Richard Falkenrath (center), and Graham Allison.
Belfer Center Photo
"Feldstein Class Connects the Dots -- Economics and Security"
Author: Sasha Talcott, Former Director of Communications and Outreach
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the well-known economist Martin Feldstein, a longtime member of the Belfer Center Board of Directors, introduced a new course at Harvard: the Economics of National Security. For Feldstein, the attacks crystallized an idea that he had been thinking about for years: Unlike other critically important national issues such as health care and crime, very few economists do any work on national security. Feldstein hoped his course at Harvard would change that.
His course, which takes the form of a seminar series and is now in its ninth year, for the first time brings the tools of economics to bear on some of the most important international security challenges we face today. Over the years, the course has attracted some of the leading thinkers working on national security today, including Robert Gates, now secretary of defense; former CIA Director John Deutch, a member of the Belfer Center's board of directors; and Stephen Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and current U.S. special representative for North Korea policy.
For an economics course, Feldstein's approach is unusual: He brings in experts in national security issues-almost all noneconomists. Belfer Center Director Graham Allison was an early supporter of Feldstein's efforts and has spoken to his class nearly every year since.
Along the way, the speakers highlight interesting facts, figures, and issues that enterprising students of economics may want to research further. Bruce Riedel, who led President Obama's first review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009, spoke to Feldstein's class in April about the challenges posed by both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"People like Bruce Reidel, who are not economists, talk about very important problems," Feldstein said. "I hope some of the students would respond to that by saying, ‘How does this get funded?' ‘How do you create a stable economy?' ‘What's the right size army to have?'" Speakers this year included Deutch on the national security aspects of the global energy market, former Belfer Center Executive Director Richard Falkenrath, then deputy commissioner of counter-terrorism with the New York Police Department, and Harvard Economics Professor Effi Benmelech on the economic cost of harboring terrorism.
Feldstein's model seems to be working. Over the years, the course has spawned a number of thesis chapters focusing on topics such as military recruitment, economic sanctions, and the nature of terrorism.
Allan Friedman, a fellow with the Belfer Center's Minerva Project, which focuses on
Cyber security, took Feldstein's class this spring.
"I think it's fascinating," he said. "The discussion is incredibly respectful. Many of the questions reflect a unique perspective."
The course also has another benefit: Introducing Harvard economics grad students to military officers, and vice versa. The course started out as all economics students, but over the years has evolved to include quite a few National Security Fellows from the Kennedy School and other military officers.
"How many graduate students in economics have met a colonel?" Feldstein said. "That exposure is very valuable."
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