• Steve Holland, Professor of Economics

    "I’m most interested in questions about how people act when economic and legal institutions don’t fit their needs."

Steve Holland

Loves the Process of Learning

In his first college economics class, Holland remembers being intrigued by how economists used such neat mathematical tools to help explain messy social systems. “I still love being in the classroom and watching students engage with this economic way of thinking just like I did,” he says.

Holland thinks it’s fun trying to tackle social issues in a systematic way and with students who first encounter this sort of thinking. “There are many ‘A-ha’ moments and a lot of frustration,” he says, “But I really enjoy guiding students through the process of learning.”

Why He’s Attracted to the Liberal Arts

Holland received his undergraduate degree from a liberal arts college. “I did all of the liberal arts things such as choosing two seemingly unrelated majors (economics and English) and studying abroad for a semester (in Cambridge, England),” he says. “I was looking to change my career in my early 30’s and realized that the most rewarding job I could have would be to teach in a liberal arts setting and give students the same sort of high quality experience I received.”

His Research Interests and Current Projects

Holland has backgrounds in both law and economics so it’s natural for him to think about how those two subjects intertwine.

“Strangely, though, most of my research has involved issues that fall in-between law and economics. I’m most interested in questions about how people act when economic and legal institutions don’t fit their needs,” he says. “It has always fascinated me how people find ingenious ways to solve many of their collective problems and how social norms and other informal rules arise to work out other problems.”

Examples of Holland’s interests can be seen in his current research topics. He is currently finalizing an article about organic food certification policy and how trust between consumers and food producers can cause farmers to opt out of getting certified.

He’s also working on a paper about the social impacts of gentrification (a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district's character and culture).

Study Abroad Courses in the Pacific Northwest and Vietnam

Holland recently taught a course at Holden Village in the Cascade Mountains of Washington on environmental issues facing the Pacific Northwest. “The highlights were the discussions over dinner or hot chocolate, snowshoeing and skiing around Holden Village, epic snowball fights, and a really unique perspective on what it means to be a part of a community.”

Next year he plans to co-lead a course to Vietnam that looks at the effects of modernization on a developing country and how the Vietnamese people are dealing with the tension between tradition and change.

Holland earned a law degree (J.D.) from Georgetown University and practiced as a commercial litigation attorney until 1999. He received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota in 2003, taught at Macalester College from 2003-05, and joined the faculty at Luther in fall of 2005. He spent the 2012-13 academic year teaching and studying in Montenegro with a Fulbright scholarship.

Holland believes that law and economics are a natural fit and wrote a  blog post that compares the two. “This background has led me to teach many classes that explore the intersections of economics and policy,” he says. “My experiences in a courtroom also helped me when I entered the classroom.”