Economics professor Rodney Ludema, who taught at Georgetown for almost 20 years, joined the U.S. State Department as chief economist in July and will serve in this position for a year.
In his new position, Ludema provides the State Department with analysis of economic aspects of foreign policy.
“The best way to think about it is this: gone are the days when countries would follow the advice of the United States simply because we said so,” Ludema said. “Now we have to convince countries of the appropriate policies and convince them with credible analysis and solid evidence.”
The position, which is at the assistant secretary level, was created by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to facilitate an effective connection between economic and foreign policy. The chief economist reports to the under secretary of state for economic growth, Energy and the Environment.
Ludema said that he took the position to gain a new perspective on international trade, a subject he often studies.
“Sometimes it’s easy to write academic papers that address issues that are of concern to other academics, and so I think it’s important to every once in a while take a step back, pick your head up and look around and see what issues are actually important in the world,” Ludema said. “This is a really good way of doing that, so I am learning a lot and focused on issues that previously hadn’t been on my radar.”
Ludema’s research focuses on international trade policy, international political economy and the connection between trade and the environment. He founded Georgetown’s International Economics Seminar and served as the program’s director in 2003 and again from 2006 to 2010. He is the editor of the Journal of International Economics.
Ludema served as the senior international economist at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the President from 2012 to 2013.
Economics professor Anna Mayda, one of Ludema’s colleagues, said that she thinks that his calm personality will help him succeed in his government appointment.
“The nice thing about him is that although he is very smart, he is very laid-back and not too self-centered so he is also a very good teacher,” Mayda said. “It’s not just working together but learning a lot through the process and that may not happen if you have a senior person who is self-centered.”
Mayda said that Ludema shows a true passion for research and academia, which makes him an excellent candidate for his job.
“He is passionate about what he works on I can see that he really likes to do research and that is important when you are in academia,” Mayda said. “I can see that doing research is fun for him, it is not a burden.”
Ludema said that he will return to Georgetown to teach when his appointment is over.
“I very much like Georgetown and academia,” Ludema said. “I am an academic at heart, it is my life-blood, and so to put on a suit and work within a bureaucracy — it’s not natural for me.”
Maria Hamdouchi (SFS ’16), who took Ludema’s International Trade class, said that his passion for economics was evident in class and made him an excellent professor.
“He takes being a professor very seriously and he cares about his students,” Hamdouchi said. “As far as academia goes, he ‘gets it’ in that he doesn’t present all of the information as if its something you can learn in books; he really tries to apply it.”