When economist Megan Greene ’97 arrived on campus in 2003 as a Teaching Fellow in German and History, she had spent a year as a financial consultant advising England’s royal family.
Greene returned to campus Monday night to talk about the state of the current American economy and her strategies looking toward the future. Greene is currently a Global Chief Economist and Managing Director at John Hancock Investments, where she analyzes economic trends to provide forecasts for investors.
In her presentation, Greene provided an overview of two perspectives on the current trajectory for the U.S. economy. She explained that the more optimistic perspective is based on soft data like consumer confidence, and has recently seen a boost since the 2016 presidential election. The current expectation from many consumers is that future policy changes such as deregulation and tax cuts will make investing profitable. According to Greene, this is partially true, as unemployment is at a long-time low and the stock market is at a post-crisis high.
The other view, based on hard data such as industrial and manufacturing statistics, suggests that while consumer confidence is high, consumers are not spending as much of the money that they are earning, and their wages are not rising.
While she examined both sides of the issue, Nathan Goldthwaite ’18 expected Greene to take a firmer stance during her presentation.
Goldthwaite said, “We’ve had a recession every ten years, but she seemed to be sort of ambiguous about that, and she thought the tax plan wasn’t necessarily going to overheat our economy as much as just keep it going. So, I just sort of expected her to take a less moderate stance.”
Greene advises recognizing that data can often be skewed. In the case of soft data, all of the consumer confidence index data is based on calls to landlines, which are disproportionately found in homes with elderly residents. She also explained how the absence of a rise in wages could be explained by the changing patterns of employment shifting away from single full-time jobs and more towards short-term “gigs.”
In her presentation, Greene said, “One of the reasons that wages are so stuck is because of what was consuming. We used to spend two-thirds of what we had on goods. Now, we spend two-thirds of what we have on services. And that matters because services-producing jobs tend to be very low-wage jobs, goods-producing jobs tend to be high-wage jobs. There are exceptions, but on the whole, that’s the case.”
Throughout her career, Greene has worked closely with policymakers in order to predict future economic trends. Her investigative work involves looking at data to find areas where big change might happen. One area where she sees a huge potential for growth is in innovation. In an interview with The Phillipian, she explained how the current job market is continually growing, especially with increased automation and artificial intelligence.
Greene said, “When we created the car, people were really worried about jobs, but we created the car, and then we had highways [and] rest stops on the highways. We never thought the car would create new restaurants on the highways — we couldn’t conceive… it. I think there are probably new industries that will crop up that we haven’t thought of, but there’s no guarantee because we can’t identify what they are.”
After her time as a teaching fellow, Greene focused her analysis on European economics. Although Green said she was initially reluctant about her assignment and wanted a more dynamic market, she found herself covering the epicenter of the 2008 financial crisis. She describes Greece as one her favorite countries to study.
“Greece is interesting as the first country in Europe that got into trouble, and it is the model. We learned a lot about the mistakes that they made in Greece as well as some successes for the other countries,” said Greene.
Emma Donchi ’18, who currently takes History-502 Economics II: Macroeconomics and the Global Consumer at Andover, found particular inspiration in Greene’s presentation and enjoyed learning about the real-world application of information from her class.
“It’s made me more interested in pursuing something in the economic field because in the very beginning of her presentation, she listed all the things she had done, and it was really intriguing and very inspiring,” said Donchi.
As a student at Andover and in college, Greene was more interested in microbiology and medicine. Her path to economics was atypical and came after doing an independent project on the topic her Senior year. She assured students that they have plenty of time to choose careers by recounting her discussions at a recent conference of high-level executives.
Greene said, “Almost everyone there found out what they wanted to do later in life… they all switched pretty late in the game and did what [they] loved rather than what [they] were good at [and] held up pretty well. So, that’s a good lesson as you guys try and figure out your paths, which may or may not as squiggly as mine.”