• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

'Working in an Academic Environment Is Like Running an Ultramarathon'

Anton Galeev

Holds a bachelor's degree from HSE University and a master's degree in Economics from University College London. Research fellow at the HSE Centre for the History and Methodology of Economic Science. Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theoretical Economics at the HSE University Faculty of Economic Sciences.

Anton Galeev’s longstanding interest in tracing the origins of academic theories has led him to study the historical development of economic thought. In this interview with the HSE Young Scientists project, Anton discusses Russian economist Yuly Zhukovsky, the importance of staying in good writing shape, and how Disney's Frozen helped solve the Dyatlov Pass mystery.

Why I decided to pursue science

My decision was influenced by the academic atmosphere at HSE University. I studied on the International Bachelor's Programme in Economics and Finance at ICEF. In the final years of my studies, they launched an Advanced Doctoral and Research Programme. It was designed to prepare students for engaging in advanced research—in particular, for pursuing doctoral programmes at various universities. As I was preparing my term and degree papers within this programme, I became increasingly convinced that I wanted to pursue a career in science, where I could fully realise my potential.

The subject of my research

I am not a typical economist, since I study the history of economic thought. My dissertation focuses on Yuly Zhukovsky, a writer who, alongside Nikolai Chernyshevsky, contributed to the Sovremennik journal. Zhukovsky held radical views at one point, but later went on to serve as the governor of the State Bank of the Russian Empire. I have been exploring his ideas in economics and, on a broader scale, the evolution of economic science during the latter half of the 19th and the early 20th century.

Zhukovsky stood out for his profound understanding and extensive engagement with Western economic literature. His social consciousness, a trait shared by Russian economists of that era, intertwined with ideas gleaned from Western economists. In his work, he departed from the prevailing canons of the period, primarily associated with the English tradition of political economy. The solutions he proposed are in line with contemporary approaches and encompass elements such as mathematical modelling, an institutional perspective on economic development, and, in general, a more formalised approach to conducting economic research.

Zhukovsky's life

He began his career as a junior assistant to a department head at the Ministry of Justice, and subsequently played an active role in the development and implementation of the 1861 Emancipation Reform (the abolition of serfdom) by serving at a department of the Main Committee on Rural Affairs. During that period, he balanced a career in civil service with his pursuits in journalism. Sovremennik, a literary and political journal to which he contributed, wielded significant influence on Russian society, and the authors of that era would be considered influencers by today's standards. However, Zhukovsky's superiors in the civil service took issue with some of the statements he made in Sovremennik. In 1864, he decided to leave the civil service and commit himself entirely to literary pursuits.

However, financial difficulties eventually compelled Zhukovsky to re-enter the civil service, this time at the Ministry of Finance. Nikolai Bunge, who was the Minister of Finance at the time, happened to be an admirer of Zhukovsky's writing and followed his academic publications. Because of this, Zhukovsky was promoted to the role of State Bank governor. This position afforded him little time to dedicate to the study of economics, resulting in significantly fewer publications during that period.

When Sergei Witte became Minister of Finance, he proposed that Zhukovsky step down from his position to take on the role of senator in the Department of Heraldry—a ceremonial position allowing Zhukovsky to dedicate his spare time to literary work. Throughout this period, he published some of his seminal works, including Money and Banks, a book that not only concluded his theoretical research but also summarised the outcomes of his service at the State Bank of the Russian Empire.

Photo: HSE University

What I take pride in

I take pride in my dissertation, which was part of my doctoral programme. This extensive and, hopefully, thought-provoking work is dedicated to a scholar who remains relatively obscure in contemporary economic science. My examination of his contributions to economic theory aims to advance our understanding of the history of economic science.

I am also proud of the students I supervise as part of my work at the Centre for the History and Methodology of Economic Science. Their presentations at the Russian Economic Congress—the country's leading conference in economics held once every three years—are remarkable evidence of their academic success. Every paper submitted to the conference undergoes a rigorous review process, and only the best ones are chosen for presentation.

One of my students' presentations was dedicated to a highly relevant current topic, namely how the issue of sanctions is addressed in global academic discourse. Another paper was dedicated to Sergei Bulgakov, a Russian economist, philosopher, and priest who lived in the early 20th century and proposed an alternative interpretation of political economy, with an emphasis on the role of religion in addressing economic matters.

How progress impacts the study of the history of economic thought

The 1970s marked a quantitative shift in economics, characterised by an increased use of statistical data. Considering current trends, this shift continues to gather momentum. A compelling illustration of this is the popularity of the course on leveraging big data to address economic and social challenges, taught by the prospective Nobel laureate Raj Chetty at Harvard University.

Nonetheless, according to more traditional economists, in our pursuit of data, we often devote less time to its interpretation, whereas economics primarily concerns relationships among people rather than mere numbers. To quote the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, 'Economics is about people.' The extensive use of big data-driven methods may lead to the erosion of our academic identity as economists, reducing us to data analysts.

Photo: HSE University

My dream

As a scientist, my dream is to find the time to bring all of my ideas to fruition. For instance, in collaboration with two colleagues, one specialising in computer science and the other in econometrics, we have been working on an extensive paper that examines the interplay between economic theory and economic policy.

The fundamental question at hand is the extent to which theory can influence policies and, conversely, the degree to which policies can shape theory and dictate the academic discourse. We use statistical data to investigate whether a correlation exists between the trend of liberalism in academic discourse and the liberal measures taken in international trade since the 2000s.

We are thoroughly examining this issue, making our goal rather ambitious, and have already been working on this paper for two years. We have presented it multiple times at conferences and received invaluable feedback from colleagues. Next year, we plan to make another presentation at the international conference of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought, led by Vladimir Avtonomov, Head of the Centre for the History and Methodology of Economic Science. If that presentation is successful, we will proceed to publish the paper. According to our hypothesis, scientists have the ability to perceive the zeitgeist and anticipate certain future developments in economic policy.

Can scientists influence economic policy?

Yes, they can. This approach is attributed to the American scientist and Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman. He emphasised that economic policy should primarily be grounded in economic theory. This, in part, contributed to reforms in Latin America and the widespread adoption of economic liberalism. Another example can be found today in central banks: typically, they maintain dedicated research departments to support the implementation of specific policies.

To me, science is primarily about diligent effort, and it is very rewarding, although not always in financial terms. The sense of accomplishment that comes when you have finished and published a paper or achieved something novel is immense.

I would have liked to have met the renowned English political economist David Ricardo, who lived and worked during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An exceptional scholar, he significantly influenced the entire field of modern economic science. Without Ricardo, the existence of abstract economic theory and economic modelling as we know them today might not have been possible. He addressed issues that continue to concern present-day economists. In fact, for much of the 19th century, economists both criticised and further developed Ricardo's theories. Modern economics would have been entirely different but for Ricardo's work, particularly his ground-breaking On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.

The global nature of science

If this is the first time you've encountered Ricardo's name, that's not uncommon. It is, in fact, a major limitation of the economic science. If you were to ask the average person on the street what great economists they know, people in Russia might mention Adam Smith, partly owing to Pushkin, who wrote in Eugene Onegin that the protagonist 'read Adam Smith and was an accomplished economist.' In Britain, people may recall John Maynard Keynes. Perhaps they wouldn't be able to name anyone else. Yet every country should recognise and give credit to its economists.

Science was not truly global for a very long time. In the 19th century, the mainstream of economics and its primary tenets were predominantly influenced by England, and to some extent, France and Germany. America rose to prominence as the 'holy land' of economic science only in the first half of the 20th century.

In this context, studying the national history of economic thought becomes highly relevant. Outstanding representatives of Russian economic thought include Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky, Vladimir Dmitriev, Nikolai Kondratiev, and Evgeny Slutsky.

A typical day for me

I go to the office to teach classes, but mostly I work from home. My workday typically starts between 9 and 10 am. First, I tackle my emails to kickstart the day. Once I've settled into my work rhythm, I make a conscious effort to minimise distractions and dedicate 6–8 hours to work. Occasionally, I need to visit the Lenin Library or the Public Historical Library to obtain the necessary literature. I believe it's essential to try to write at least a little every day. Writing is a skill that can be quickly lost and challenging to build. One should always try to stay in good writing shape as an author.

How I deal with burnout

Working in an academic environment is like running an ultramarathon. I cannot afford the luxury of experiencing burnout. This is why I make an effort to set aside an entire day each week, free from the computer, to fully dedicate my time to myself, my family, and my hobbies. This reboot helps me stay in good shape and avoid burning out.

My interests besides science

I thoroughly enjoy watching football. To me, it's akin to chess, and I view football matches from the perspective of the coach's strategy. And I'm a dedicated fan of Tottenham Hotspur.

My recent major hobby has been collecting antique books. I visit second-hand bookstores with the enthusiasm of a hunter on a hunt. My primary focus is on collecting books related to the history of economic thought.

One of my most recent and likely most valuable finds is a book by the Soviet scholar Abram Reuel, titled Russian Economic Thought of the 60s and 70s of the 19th century and Marxism. It is an exceptionally captivating work that provides a remarkably detailed account of events from the period which I have explored in my dissertation. However, the author’s substantial factual groundwork is overshadowed by the required severe critique from a Marxist standpoint. During the Soviet era, ideological constraints dramatically restricted the scope of the history of economic thought. Scholars were required to explicitly identify who supported Bolshevism and who opposed it.

I also have a passion for playing the guitar. It dates back to my younger years when I was a fan of American alternative rock music.

Photo: HSE University

What books I read

I am fascinated with history and historical figures. Recently, I happened to learn about specific aspects of Rastafarianism, particularly the fact that Rastafarians hold deep reverence for Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia, with many considering him to be the incarnation of God.

I became genuinely intrigued by how a mortal man of flesh and blood could become the embodiment of God for a substantial number of people. Thus, I am currently in the final stages of reading his biography.

What I watch

My favourite TV show is The X-Files. I also recently watched the TV series Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident, began studying this topic, and learned something interesting. Swiss scientists have demonstrated that natural phenomena must have been behind the Dyatlov party's tragic deaths. The researchers used a modified simulation model originally developed to depict the movement of snow for Disney's animated film Frozen. With the help of computer modelling and knowledge about the weather conditions on that ill-fated day, the scientists were able to show that a very hard snow slab from an avalanche which occurred on Kholat Syakhl must have descended directly onto the team's tent. The people fled in panic, with tragic consequences.

Advice for budding scientists

Economics is a vast and diverse discipline. It encompasses various subfields, from applied economics related to labour and industry markets to purely theoretical areas such as the history of economic thought. Don't hesitate to give it a try. You will definitely discover something that appeals to you.

My favourite place in Moscow

Leninsky Prospekt. I have a deep affection for Moscow, as it's my hometown, and Leninsky Prospekt is perhaps the most vibrant area in our city. Regardless of which metro station you approach it from, whether it's Troparyovo on the outskirts or the centrally located Oktyabrskaya, day or night, you will always see cars speeding by, well-lit shops, and people strolling about. One can truly sense the pulse of Moscow in that area.