Nobel laureate assesses Alaska issues

“Globalization is a new word for an ancient world process,” Nobel laureate Vernon Smith said.

Smith lectured Sept. 4 at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium as the first Rasmuson Chair of Economics.

Globalization is both specialization and wealth creation, Smith said.

Smith framed globalization in the context of the spread of humanity from the continents of Africa and Asia into the Americas, describing how it has persisted for tens of thousands of years. People exchange goods and services in order to take advantage of opportunity as well as for their own betterment.

“Globalization and exchange are good words, peaceful words,” Smith said.

The concept could be the future of Alaska, Smith said, although that decision will have to be made by Alaskans. Whether the state should play an increased role in global exchange should only be considered if that is “what Alaskans want,” he said. “[And] how much economic development do you want?”

Alaska is a unique state in that only one percent of its land is privately owned and developed. The rest of the land is federally owned and controlled and not available for the same kind of economic development possible in other states.

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Federal ownership of land can pose a barrier to economic development. A proposed way around this obstacle, Smith said, would be to create long-term lease agreements where federal land is leased to private owners for development, but remains under U.S. ownership.

“If the answer [to increased economic development], is no, then leave it as it is and love it as it is,” Smith said.

This option, although valuable, has costs. One of the problems could be retaining people in the state and advancing existing companies and commerce.

The challenge for Alaska is to keep younger residents in the state. To do this, Smith said there needs to be opportunities for individual economic advancement to retain the people and the workforce.

“They will stay if there is opportunity for them,” Smith said.

“Revolutionary” ideas, like the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, that act in the interest of all the citizens will also help advance the state.

“These resources up here ought to be developed…so Alaska’s citizens can benefit,” Smith said.

Chancellor Lee Gorsuch said providing a reason to stay and catering to the state’s need for a pool of educated and skilled workers matches the university’s goals.

“To build Alaska’s talent pool…respond to the state and student’s needs…and to develop further programs of distinction,” are all missions of UAA, Gorsuch said, “Developing our human capital is one of our best strategies.”

Economic development and the future of the state are in the eye of the beholder, and the role of the university is to educate the beholder, said Gorsuch.

“Providing a skilled and knowledgeable human capital is very important…Bring it right into the classroom,” Smith said. “What we teach is what we research.