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Emma Hou, '24

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This story is part of the Why Econ? series. Our affiliated students and faculty share why econ matters to them, their work, and our world.

Emma Hou stumbled onto economics by chance. As a high school junior visiting her brother at Stanford, she dropped into an introductory economics course taught by Mark Duggan, the Trione Director at SIEPR.

Hou knew little about economics, but she was always drawn to the tangible over the theoretical. Even though she didn’t fully understand the topic of the lecture that day — the Solow Model — she realized that economics is as real as it gets. “[Duggan’s] explanations and examples seemed so applicable to the world and how it works,” she says.

Though curious, Hou was not yet sold on economics. She enrolled at Stanford in 2019, interested in studying human and animal behavior, thinking she might go to medical school. But even with her sights set on a human biology major, she knew she wanted to take Principles of Econ. In the class, she was fascinated by how the circular flow model of money and goods describes people’s decision-making as well as how the model is scalable to explain the behavior of markets, businesses, and economies.

Still interested in health care, but intrigued with economics, Hou worked as a SIEPR summer research assistant researching the effects of hospital privatization. The following fall, a seminar on measuring government performance clinched it for Hou.

After declaring econ as her major, Hou continued to work as a SIEPR undergraduate research assistant. In that capacity, she co-authored a SIEPR policy brief comparing and contrasting economic policies in New York and in Florida and contributed to several others, including a proposal for improving health care for military veterans. In addition, Hou became a TA for the government performance seminar because she felt it was so influential for her. For her senior thesis, Hou is analyzing the effectiveness of government loans to small businesses during the pandemic as an intern at the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

Economics, Hou says, feels as relevant now as it first did years ago when she sat next to her brother in Econ 1.

“I look at trends in economic data, and it feels very real-world to know that it explains and predicts the behavior of everyday people,” she says. “Economics has also shaped the way that I look at issues. We can always have an opinion. But I catch myself now and think: What does the data tell us is actually happening?”

Story by Krysten Crawford. Photos by Ryan Zhang. Published in 2023.