Lewis Davis

Lewis Davis

Job Title
Professor of Economics
Lippman Hall 118
Department/Program: Economics

Research interests

Prof. Davis has been a faculty member at Union College since 2006 and teaches courses on political economy, economic growth, and the economics of culture, and the economics of sin. Prof. Davis’ research addresses a broad range of topics, including economic growth, income inequality, political economy, intellectual property rights, individualism, social solidarity, and envy. He has over twenty-five peer-reviewed articles, including six that were coauthored with Union students, with publications in the Journal of Economic Growth, European Economic Review, and Journal of Comparative Economics. His research has also been featured in national media, including Bloomberg View, Fox News, and NPR’s Academic Minute.  Prof. Davis serves on the editorial boards of the Eastern Economic Journal and the Review of Economics and Institutions.  He organized the 11th Annual Workshop on Macroeconomic Research at Liberal Art Colleges, 2015, and the Symposium on Religion, Social Conflict and Social Cohesion, 2017.


I joined the Economics Department at Union College in 2006 and received tenure in 2011.  I previously held positions at Smith College, the University of New Hampshire, and SUNY Oswego, and served as a visiting professor at Martin Luther University, Germany, University of Perugia, Italy, and IESEG, France.  I have spent two sabbaticals as a scholar-in-residence at New York University.  I work primarily on the economics of culture and teach classes on the economics of culture, economic development and the economics of sin.

Symposium on Religion and Social Conflict

I am organizing a Symposium on Religion, Social Conflict and Social Cohesion, which will take place Nov. 3-4, 2017, at Union College, and will feature presentations by faculty from across a broad spectrum of disciplines.

The Symposium is intended to further our understanding of the ways in which religion unites and divides us, as individuals and societies, and to foster discussion of how different disciplinary approaches to the study of religion inform, complement and challenge each other.  It is supported by Union’s Our Shared Humanities initiative, which is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In the Media

Gendered Language and the Educational Gender Gap

  • This paper was written with Megan Reynolds, class of 2016, and is an extension of her senior thesis project.  It was featured in an editorial on gendered language in The Conversation, March 8, 2018, and a segment on NPR’s Academic Minute, July 18, 2018.

Social Animal House: The Economic and Academic Consequences of Fraternity Membership

Individual Responsibility and Economic Development:  Evidence from Rainfall Data

  • My research linking rainfall patterns, individualism and economic development was featured on WAMC’s Academic Minute, Nov. 17, 2016.
  • It was also featured on the economics blog Marginal Revolution, Sept. 21, 2016.

Social Status and Racial Solidarity 

  • My work with Stephen Wu (Hamilton College) on Social Status and Racial Solidarity was featured on WAMC’s Academic MinuteDec. 2, 2015.

More in Depth - Research

I have over 20 peer-reviewed or edited publications addressing a broad range of topics, including economic growth, income inequality, law and economics, political economy, intellectual property rights, the economics of culture, and social comparisons.  Recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic GrowthEuropean Economic ReviewJournal of Comparative Economics, and Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.  I served as Associate Editor for the Princeton Encyclopedia of the World Economy, 2009.

My primary line of research investigates the roles of values, beliefs and preferences in economic, political and social outcomes.  My work in this area considers the roles of language and climate in cultural development, and the role of individualism as a determinant of institutional quality, social policy formation, and economic development.  My work on happiness is primarily concerned with how happiness is influenced by social comparisons, with papers on social status, solidarity, and tunnel effects.

I have been fortunate to have worked with a variety of talented coauthors, including most recently my colleagues M. Fuat Sener and Stephen Schmidt at Union College, Anne Owen, Stephen Wu and Julio Videras of Hamilton College, and Mark Hopkins of Moody’s Analytics.

I have an abiding interest in undergraduate research and have coauthored a number of papers with my students, including Allison Frederick ’10, Jack Mara ’10, Matthew Knauss ’11, Emily LaCroix ’11, Faragis Abdurazokzoda ’14, and Megan Reynolds ’16.



In addition to teaching several standard courses, including Introductory Economics and Microeconomic Theory, I teach a number of courses that are unique to Union College.  The Economics of Sin applies economic analysis to topics like the market for transplantable organs, addiction, crime, polygamy, prostitution and the war on drugs.  I also teach senior-level seminars on Economic GrowthPolitical Economy and the Economics of Culture.

Eco 225 – Economics of Sin:  I recently developed a sophomore-level course in the economics of sin that address the economics of ethically complex markets.  The course includes sections on the markets for transplantable organs, cigarettes and the economics of addiction, illegal drugs, and the market for sex.  The development of this course was supported by a grant from the Rapaport Everyday Ethics Across the Curriculum Program at Union College.  A recent syllabus is available here: syllabus The Economics of Sin.

Eco 380 – Economics of Growth and Development:  In this senior level seminar, students read the current literature that attempts to explain the pattern of income levels and growth rates across time and countries.  A recent syllabus is available here:  Syllabus Economic Growth and Development.

Eco 381 – Economics of Culture:  This seminar introduces students to the rapidly emerging literature on the economic of culture.  Key topics include cultural transmission and persistence, the economics of religions, racism, culture work and saving, culture and gender, the taste for redistribution, trust, and culture and institutions.  We spend a good deal of time talking about the process of economic research, and students undertake original research projects.  The syllabus changes with each offering.  A recent version is available here:  Syllabus the Economics of Culture.

Eco 385 – Political Economy:  This seminar addresses the interaction between the political and economic systems and applies the tools of economic analysis to political phenomena.  The course involves a significant research component, and students undertake an original research project.  The syllabus is available here:  Syllabus Political Economy.

Eco 498-499 – Senior Thesis:  Economics majors undertake a significant independent research project their senior year.  My senior thesis syllabus is available here:  Senior Thesis .

Professional Service

I serve on the Editorial Board of the Eastern Economic Journal and am a Managing Editor of the Review of Economics and Institutions.  I also serve on the Organizing Committee for the Workshop on Macroeconomic Research at Liberal Art Colleges, which I hosted at Union College in August, 2015.

Economic Consulting

I am available for economic consulting and policy analysis.  Please email me for details, references, and examples of my work.


Economics of Culture

  •  “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth: An Empirical Investigation,” (with Matthew Knauss) Journal of Socio-Economics 42, Feb. 2013, 43-50.

Working papers:

Pedagogy and Economics of Education

Social Status

Working papers:

  • “The Taste for Status in International Comparison,” with Stephen Wu, in preparation.

Institutions and Economic Growth

  •  “Private Patent Enforcement in the Theory of Schumpeterian Growth,” (with Fuat Sener) European Economic Review 56(7), Oct. 2012, 1446-1460.
  •  “Intellectual Property Rights, Institutional Quality and Economic Growth” (with Fuat Sener) Journal of International Commerce, Economics and Policy 3(1), 2012, 1240005.  (Invited Article) 
  •  “Legal Origin and the Evolution of Environmental Quality,” (with Emily LaCroix) Economics Bulletin 31(4), Oct. 2011, 2968-2974.
  •  “Institutional Foundations of Inequality and Growth,” (with Mark Hopkins) Journal of Development Studies 47(7), July 2011, 977–997.
  •  “Institutional Flexibility and Economic Growth,” Journal of Comparative Economics 38 (3), September 2010, 306–320.
  •  “Do All Countries Follow the Same Growth Process?” (with Ann Owen and Julio Videras) Journal of Economic Growth 14(4), December 2009, 265-286.  (Lead article)
  • “Development” In: Reinert and Rajan (Eds.) Princeton Encyclopedia of the World Economy, 2 volumes, Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • “Scale Effects in Growth Theory:  A Role for Institutions,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 66(2), May 2008, 403-419.
  • “Technological Progress, Economic Growth.” In:  Darity, William A. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  Farmington Hills, MI:  Macmillan Reference USA.  2008.
  • “Development Economics” In: Darity, William A. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA.  2008.
  •  “Explaining the Evidence on Inequality and Growth: Informality and Redistribution,” The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics 7(1), (Contributions), Article 7, 2007.
  • “Market Transaction Costs in Industrialization and Demographic Transition,” Pacific Economic Review 12(1), Special Section on the Economics of Endogenous Specialization, February 2007, 79-99.  (Invited article)
  • “Growing Apart: The Division of Labor and the Breakdown of Informal Institutions,” Journal of Comparative Economics 34(1), March 2006, 75-91.
  • “Trade, Growth and Uneven Development: A Critical Survey,” (with William Darity, Jr.) Cambridge Journal of Economics 29(1), January 2005, 141-170. (Invited article)
  • “Toward a Unified Transaction Cost Theory of Economic Organization,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics159(3), September 2003, 571-93
  • “Does the Market Recognize IT-Enabled Competitive Advantage?” (with Bruce Dehning and Theophanis Stratopoulos),Information and Management 40(7), August 2003, 705‑716.
  • “The Division of Labor and the Growth of Government,” Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control 27(7), May 2003, 1217-1235.

Working papers:

  • “Is Justice Blind?  Evidence from Federal Corruption Convictions,” with KR White, in process.

Academic Credentials

Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; B.S., Davidson College