Policy Issues


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  • Meet a Student

    Vivek Nimgaonkar

    “The rigorous empirical approach that you have to take when you are working in the lab makes you realize not only how much you can learn by studying data, but also how many possible explanations you need to consider before you place your support behind a theory or an idea.” 

    College and Wharton Junior Vivek Nimgaonkar has quietly become a force on campus in the spheres of health care and economic public policy. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Vivek has led the recent launch of Wonk Tank, a volunteer research association run by students, for students who work together to analyze and develop solutions for current public policy problems. This endeavor comes on the heels of co-founding the MedX Program and serving as the inaugural Director of Policy, a role in which his team sought to engage in policy campaigns and raise awareness for important health policy issues. Additionally, he is the Co-Editor in Chief of the undergraduate research-based PennScience Journal, and he’s a member of Penn’s Club Tennis team to boot.

    As a student in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Dual Degree Program in Life Sciences and Management, Vivek splits his time between Biology, Health Care Management, and Business Economics and Public Policy. His science courses and background with scientific research in the lab have led to a firm appreciation of the value of data and evidence.  “The rigorous empirical approach that you have to take when you are working in the lab makes you realize not only how much you can learn by studying data, but also how many possible explanations you need to consider before you place your support behind a theory or an idea.”  Therefore, when it comes to policy, Vivek believes that a scientific approach can be really important. As he notes, it does help to look into the data underlying a certain issue to avoid being clouded by the more normative claims that often emerge in the heat of politics.

    Vivek first became interested in public policy when he was in high school.  In particular, he recalls following the debate over the Affordable Care Act and discovering that policy could be used to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing society.  The ACA also illustrated to him how policy work could be dynamic and shape the future for better and worse.  When he came to Penn, he wanted to pursue his interest in policy in some way. Vivek has taken advantage of courses in the BEPP Department, as well as varied opportunities to experiment and learn about policy outside of the classroom, especially as a researcher with the Penn Wharton PPI Student Association – both in its former iteration and currently through Wonk Tank – and as a research assistant for Dr. Mark Pauly of the HCMG Department.

    Last academic year, he and other members of the Student Association pursued an independent research report on immigration. “I think that it all began because we wanted to try to take a policy issue and move beyond the front page headlines to discover what the facts and the data really said so that we could help to frame the debate around the issue.  We wanted to be able to present what any interested person should know in order to engage in the policy debates over the issue,” Vivek said.  The team chose immigration in part because it was very relevant given the ongoing attempts to pass comprehensive reform legislation and because it was (and continues to be) an issue that has real effects on a number of different policy areas, ranging from labor policy to welfare to education.  “Working on the project was great for me because in the course of it, I was able to take a deep dive into some of the academic literature on immigrant health and the effects of immigration reform on health policy,” he said.  Not only was he able to learn a lot about the issue, but he also gained an appreciation for the value of academic research in helping to provide valuable and relevant policy information.

    It is this experience that Vivek brings with him to Wonk Tank and it informs his vision of the initiative. “As a student-run think tank, I see Wonk Tank as a means by which the skills, interests, and policy knowledge of Penn students can be shared with the community. The Penn-Wharton Public Policy Initiative offers a means by which the talent and policy research of Penn can be disseminated beyond University City, and I think that Wonk Tank is a natural student extension of the PWPPI mission.  The goal with Wonk Tank is to offer an opportunity for us as students to learn and at the same time contribute our own analysis using the skills that we are picking up in the classroom.  We want to be able to add to policy debates in a constructive way that focuses on analysis supported by research and data.”

    As for the future, he’s not sure how exactly he will engage with policy, but he’s certain that he’ll be involved with policy-related work somehow because policy is everywhere.  “Policy is a force that shapes and affects all industries.  As someone interested in medical school and a career in health care, I feel that the role of health policy in shaping the trajectory of health care is undeniable.  We are going to need to make the right decisions as a society and a nation about how we approach the financing and provision of healthcare in an environment of limited resources, and as a doctor, I hope to be able to contribute to that decision-making process in whatever way I can.” There’s no doubt Vivek will turn that vision into a reality, too.

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  • Image previewMarch 24Fiscal Policy Primer

    Here at Wonk Tank, one of the primary areas of public policy that we will be focusing on is the all-important area of fiscal policy. But in order to analyze some of the vastly complex and in-depth issues surrounding fiscal policy, it’s important to first understand what it actually is. Welcome to Wonk Tank’s Fiscal Policy Primer.

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    January 2015 ushered in not just a new year, but also the continuation of a precipitous drop in oil prices. By the end of the month, the WTI Crude Oil index bottomed out at below 45 USD per barrel and concerns over a prolonged period of price deflation emerged. While falling oil prices provide both positive and negative economic stimuli, they are generally detrimental for producers, both public and private. For governments reliant on unhedged oil revenues, this pricing environment can lead to budget deficits, economic recession, and interest rate hikes. Yet, as Russia faces a potential recession and a flight of foreign capital, other nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been able to weather the current pricing environment by relying on reserve funds. This Wonk Tank analysis focuses on the most prominent public oil fund, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (Statens pensjonsfond Utland), and its unique structure.


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