Lei Li, Assistant Professor of Economics: Geodata Analysis on international trade (June 2023)

Prof. Lei Li, PhD, has been an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Mannheim and an IZA Research Affiliate since 2019. Her research focuses on international trade, labor economics, and development economics. Prior to her appointment at the University of Mannheim, she worked as a research assistant at the University of Zurich and received her PhD in Economics from Tsinghua University in China.

What is your current research topic?

My research interest is international trade, with a special focus on the intersections between trade and labor, environment, industrial organization, and urban economics. I work on three broad topics.

First, I am interested in studying trade policy and economic incidence. The U.S.-China trade war garnered enormous attention worldwide and offered a good setting  to understand how the Chinese government and firms respond to foreign economic policies. Specifically, I seek to answer three questions, namely: (1) Who pays for the tariffs during the trade war and why do Chinese importers pay a considerably smaller share of tariffs compared to U.S. importers? (2) How does input substitutability affect the effectiveness of punitive tariffs? (3) How do Chinese firms with different market power respond to tax policies differently?

Second, I study the interactions between international trade and the labor market: (1) How trade-induced skill-biased technological changes affect wage inequality, education choice, and migration in China; (2) How trade liberalization contributes to the formation of industry clusters and how industry clusters serve as a buffer to alleviate the impact of adverse economic shocks.

Third, I evaluate the environmental and health consequences of  trade policies: (1) How  agricultural exports accelerate deforestation and influence political elections in Brazil; (2) How  garbage imports affect pollution and  death rate in China; (3) The economic incidence of pollution fees in China.

For those who have not yet delved deeply into the topic of Data Science: How would you explain to a child what you are working on?

I am working on how globalization affects wages, employment, and environment. Recently, I study the impact of US-China trade war.

Everyone talks about Data Science – how would you describe the importance of the topic for yourself in three words?

A useful tool

What points of contact with Data Science does your work have? Which methods do you already use, and which would be interesting for you in the future?

I use geodata to study the dynamics of firm locations. I am interested in learning more about performing GIS applications that support, create, edit, visualize and analyze Geospatial data.

How high is the value of Data Science for your work? Would your research even be possible without Data Science?

It is of great value. In the near future, data science will be very important for applied economists.

What development opportunities do you see for the topic of Data Science in relation to your field?

Data sciences allows economists to make full use of big data.