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My reading life: Jeffrey Bergstrand

by Christine Cox

August 26, 2014

Tag: Alumni

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Jeffrey Bergstrand doesn’t clearly remember reading stock prices in the newspaper as a very young boy, but his mother said he was fascinated. Little did she know that this childhood interest would grow into a renowned career studying the world economy.

A finance professor and associate dean for graduate programs at the Mendoza College of Business, Bergstrand has taught macroeconomics for 28 years and currently instructs Notre Dame MBA and Notre Dame Executive MBA students in South Bend and Chicago.

If Bergstrand’s reading life started with stock prices, it has expanded to a range of publications about international trade and investment, presidential biographies and an occasional novel, as he explains in this Q&A.

What are you reading now?

Because I am still an active researcher, I devote most of my reading time to published and unpublished scholarly articles in my area. However, in my spare time, I try to read books.

I’ve been reading Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke. It looks at the development of world trade over the last 2,000 years and gives fascinating historical context. I’ve been working on it for a year now; it can be a bit dry. I come back to it when I can’t sleep at night.

I’m also about to start reading Thomas Jefferson’s actual writings. I love reading presidential biographies. They not only help me understand the history of this country economically and politically, but they also are valuable for me in my role of associate dean for graduate programs. It helps me understand more about great leaders. I’ve recently read biographies on George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

The four-volume collection of Jefferson’s works that I’m going to read is called Memoirs, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, which was edited by Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph in the 1800s. I just came back from visiting my godmother in Los Angeles, who has a wonderful book collection. She gave me these Jefferson volumes as a gift. They’re old and the covers are deteriorating, but I’m looking forward to reading Jefferson’s own writing.

Which presidential biography spoke to you most?

My favorite so far is Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2011. It really impressed me because it drew out the character of Washington as a leader and how he became father of this country. It wasn’t so much through his military acumen — for which he was probably modest at best — it was how he was able to lead this ragtag continental army with a hodgepodge of military resources to carry things out.

One of the most stirring times in American history was the hardship at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777. Visiting Valley Forge with my son helped me understand the immense dire conditions. The soldiers were given IOUs instead of pay and still stayed on because of Washington. He was such a motivational force and was truly loved by the soldiers. He had a vision for what they could do and what their potential was. He brought out the best in them, even under extraordinarily dire conditions.

What do you read to keep up on the economy?

My first job after earning my PhD was with the Federal Reserve System. I spent five years with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. So I often read Federal Reserve publications because I used to write them. The Federal Reserve posts good economics notes online and I read those. I read The Economist magazine, because it’s a great way to keep up on the world economy, world politics and what’s going on in the world in general. And I read the major newspapers, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

By teaching global economics in all of your classes, you have spurred a lifelong interest for many alums. What are some relevant publications for alums interested in keeping current with global economics?

I go back to The Economist because it’s well balanced and moderate. It’s not pure capitalism or pure socialism; it’s somewhere in between, as most industrial economies are. And it is very good on its economic analysis without being technical. The Economist gives you constant doses of reality for the global economy.

For those interested in a little more depth on the world economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) puts out its World Economic Outlook online every six months. It’s not technical and it’s probably the best forecast out there. It’s quite readable for anybody who’s had macroeconomics at the undergraduate, MBA level or EMBA level.

What are some of your favorite books?

Due to time constraints, I don’t read as much fiction these days, but two works of fiction are old favorites. The first is The World According to Garp by John Irving. I have enjoyed several of Irving’s books. I read Garp years ago, but still remember a lot of specific parts. One line that I especially remember is “Watch out for the undertow,” a warning to beware of lurking potholes.

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis was a really great book. I think I was taking a college writing class when I read it. I thought it was brilliant, the very surreal concept of waking up as an insect. But what made an impact on me was Kafka’s ability to make that very surreal context seem real. In some of my fictional writing in college, I would try to do that myself. It was an interesting way to stretch my imagination.