The political economy of ideas

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Ruixue Jia speaking at an event

How economics professor Ruixue Jia’s collaborative research is making a global impact

Associate professor Ruixue Jia’s research is a testament to the spirit of collaboration within the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). 

“GPS is very special in its close relationships with other departments,” Jia explained. “In our age characterized by excessive specialization, I often feel fortunate to be an economist working on political economy, as this field allows for discussions with scholars from other disciplines.” 

Jia works regularly with scholars and students in both economics and political science. She is currently studying, in conjunction with UC San Diego political science professor Molly Roberts, how recent U.S.-China tensions have shaped the production and diffusion of ideas in the natural sciences. Jia and Roberts have been sponsored by the Sloan Foundation Grant, and their initial paper on this topic was recently accepted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our investigations into U.S.-China tensions have garnered the interest of policymakers and have led to presentations at influential forums, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), NIH Fogarty International Center and the National Academies,” Jia said. “CSIS has been instrumental in broadcasting our findings. We hope these findings can clarify some misconceptions and inform policymaking dialogue.”

Together with two former Ph.D. students from the economics department, Xiao Ma and Jianan Yang, Jia has studied how a major regulation reform shapes pharmaceutical innovation in China. Being at GPS and in the city of San Diego gives her opportunities to interact with insiders from the biotech industry and provides her with insights into the real-world process of drug innovation, she explained.

Jia even hosted a historian’s talk with the history department during the winter quarter.

“My time at GPS has expanded my research interests,” Jia said. “Without being part of GPS, I might never have had the chance to collaborate with scholars and students from other fields.”

Leadership in research labs

And the collaboration extends far beyond UC San Diego. 

In December, Jia and professor Ying Bai, with the support from the school’s 21st Century China Center and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), founded the CUHK-UC San Diego Joint Laboratory on Chinese Economy

“Besides facilitating the exchange of ideas, we also aim to mentor a new generation of scholars in our field,” Jia said. 

Jia takes on these additional responsibilities in conjunction with her role as co-director of the China Data Lab

“As a co-director of the data lab, I have been mentoring several students on a weekly basis, guiding them through their examination of policy-oriented queries,” Jia explained. “The objective of these projects is to provide new facts that are not immediately apparent.”

One China Data Lab project involves using LinkedIn data to analyze the flow of talent between the U.S. and China. 

“Specifically, we are investigating the career paths of professionals who return to China after working in American tech companies,” Jia said. “What types of companies are they joining upon their return? Are they going to multinationals, joining large domestic firms like Baidu, or venturing into startups?”

Other research and awards

Jia’s research spans both historical and contemporary contexts. 

In a historical setting, Jia examined the spread of Communist ideology in China and its role in galvanizing the vanguard of the subsequent revolution. 

“While the current economics literature provides insightful analyses of collective action motivations, it primarily highlights the importance of various forms of interests,” Jia said. “In this study, we shift the focus from interests to the power of ideas.”

Her research on economic history was recognized with the Masahiko Aoki Award in 2021. 

“Although I never had the chance to meet Aoki personally, his studies on the Japanese economy have influenced me since my student days,” Jia said. “He exemplifies those scholars who, by studying their home countries, have attained a broader understanding of the world.”

Jia has also served as the executive secretary for the Association for Comparative Economic Studies since 2022. 

“Alongside an excellent team of board members, our efforts are concentrated on fostering a community for scholars with interests in political economy, economic history, and economic development,” she explained. 

The organization held its first Political Economy Summer School in London in 2022, followed by the second at UC Berkeley in 2023 and a third scheduled this August in Hong Kong.

“These summer schools have been educational for me,” Jia said. “Developing and expanding this association together with like-minded peers has been a fulfilling journey.”

Teaching students to be knowledgeable consumers of data

Amid all this collaborative research, Jia teaches the Government and Regulation course, as well as the Master of Chinese Economic and Political Affairs (MCEPA) capstone course at the school. 

“My teaching emphasizes the application of quantitative methods to study policy-relevant issues ranging from environmental regulation to affirmative action,” Jia explained. 

Her primary goal, she said, is to help students become knowledgeable consumers of data-based research. 

“I also encourage them to grasp the limitations inherent in these methods, enabling them to make informed decisions about whether they wish to engage in such approaches in the future.”

To learn more about Jia’s work, visit her website

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Virginia Watson is the communications editor for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism with a minor in graphic design from Troy University.
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