No need to go west

Visiting Associate Professor Jun Qian says developing countries do not need to adopt Western systems

Professor Jun Qian

As a visiting associate professor from Boston College, Jun Qian, who goes by QJ, did not have far to travel to his new school — just a few miles down Commonwealth Avenue.

But QJ, whose research often takes him thousands of miles away from home, hopes those few miles will be enough to offer a fresh perspective. “MIT has a wonderful group of researchers,” says QJ, who earned his PhD in 2000 from the University of Pennsylvania. “There is a lot of synergy here with my work.”

QJ's research spans many subjects and topics of theoretical and empirical corporate finance and financial institutions. In particular, he is interested in the connection between financial contracts, laws and institutions, and economic growth at a global level. He also applies financial economic theories to the development of financial systems in emerging markets.

Emerging controversy

His interest in emerging markets was largely born of his own childhood growing up in China. “I became very interested in policy-related research,” says QJ, whose work has not been without controversy.

Some of his theories are not exactly in line with the commonly held view. For example, QJ contends that emerging global markets such as India, China, and Africa work just fine in their own way, which is in direct conflict with the World Bank's position on about the economic development in emerging markets. According to QJ, the World Bank and many scholars and policy makers from developed countries believe that “for an emerging country to develop its financial system and overall economy, it should first develop a western style — especially one similar to the United Kingdom and United States — legal system and institutions.”

“Our view is that while it is certainly important to develop ‘good’ laws and institutions at some point to sustain long-term economic growth, there can be more than one successful model to do this, and during early stages of economic growth, it is possible that a set of non-legal mechanisms (those based on reputation, relationship, and trust) can Ôsubstitute' for the legal mechanisms.”

Drawn to discourse

It is this kind of debate and discourse that drew QJ to academia in the first place. “You have a large degree of freedom in pursuing whatever research topics you want in academia,” he says. “One can take a broader view of topics and I particularly like financial economics research because it is a very applied field where I can answer real-world questions.”

Because of his interest in global issues, QJ is particularly looking forward to working with MIT Sloan students. “It is a very international student body,” says QJ. “I am actually going to get to teach topics that are related to my research.”

This semester, QJ is teaching Advanced Corporate Finance. Next semester he will add an H-level course, Corporate Finance in Emerging Markets. “I learn so much just from the interactions with my students.”

For QJ, the academic life has been an ideal blend of research, teaching, and flexibility. This year he is particularly grateful for flexibility since he and his wife are expecting their first child. “With a baby on the way, academic life is perfect,” says QJ, who will have his hands full. But that is what he prefers. “I am sure I will learn a lot this year — on all counts.”