Razavi’s research at Harris focuses on answering the question, “What does a fair economy actually look like?”
Goya Razavi

When a government aims to craft evenhanded economic policy for its citizens, it must first consider a surprisingly tricky question: What does a fair economy actually look like?

That’s the riddle that Goya Razavi has been wrestling with for the past seven years, first as a student and researcher at the London School of Economics, then as an economic policy analyst for the European Union, and now as a PhD student at The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Yet, despite being an economist by training, Razavi often has turned to a very different discipline to help him decipher answers to questions of economic equality and fairness: philosophy.

“Economics cannot tell you that much about what is reasonable when it comes to issues of inequality, because economics does not focus on normative issues,” Razavi said. “So, you need to have a debate about on the role of values in economics, such as freedom and inequality.”

With those questions in mind, Razavi has focused his research into the economic benefits of social mobility and how to best facilitate it through public policy. At Harris, he plans to study the connection between economics, philosophy, sociology, and political science in influencing social mobility, using his findings to develop better models that fit the data and to understand the underlying mechanisms at work.

“You cannot strive for equality of outcomes, but you can strive for equality of opportunities, which is closely related to social mobility,” Razavi said.

While attending the London School of Economics, he began to explore the philosophical questions underpinning economic policies and disparities. At the university, he served as a research assistant working on tax policy, which he came to see as “one of the main policy levers currently used to reduce inequality, albeit not necessarily the most targeted way of equating opportunities.”

After graduating in 2016, Razavi worked as a policy analyst for the European Commission—the EU’s executive branch—helping to assess the fairness and efficiency of the union’s tax systems in the face of European austerity measures.

“Working on taxes at that time was even more meaningful, because you know how much taxation can affect and improve people’s lives, for instance, either by impacting social mobility or putting in place tax incentives to put people back at work.”

Razavi said he was drawn to Harris when he saw how the school’s professors used interdisciplinary lenses to study global societal problems and translated their academic findings into real-world impacts—a path he hopes to emulate.

In 2018, Razavi was a student in the MA in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) at Harris. The 15-month degree prepares students for a full PhD program by allowing them to take doctoral-level courses and engage in high-level research. Based on Razavi’s success while earning his MACRM degree, where he worked with Harris Professor Steven Neil Durlauf to understand the role of social interactions in social mobility, he was accepted to Harris’ PhD program, entering as a second-year candidate thanks to his coursework and research.

Razavi’s interest in economic fairness also extends beyond the classroom: “My parents and grandparents have served as civil servants and were very much conscious of the importance of fairness in shaping the economy and increasing welfare. This has shaped my upbringing and willingness to understand more about the mechanisms at work. That’s what I really like about Harris. It’s based on understanding the underlying mechanisms, not just giving empirical data on the trends and stylized facts. I firmly believe that these endeavors are key to policymaking, because you need to understand why the trend is happening.”

Ultimately, Razavi hopes his work will help make economies and economic outcomes fairer for all people.

“To me, it seems like a very basic but important concept—that everyone has the same opportunities in life.”