What do you get when you cross a Fulbright Research Fellow in Kyiv, Ukraine, with an advisor to the U.S. executive director of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C, and plunk him down in Michigan? You get Public Sector Consultants’ most interesting economist. When he parks at a meter, he always has exact change. When he wears suits, they never wrinkle. When he opens an Excel spreadsheet, the formulas calculate themselves. Now, Stephan Vitvitsky’s broad experience in national and international economic policy is on tap right here in Lansing. We talked to him about his work as an economist at the IMF and the U.S. Department of Treasury and how he applies that experience to policymaking for PSC’s clients. Grab something to sip on — Stephan recommends a cup of homemade cold brew — and learn more about PSC’s most interesting, and only, economist.

You have broad experience over the past decade or so as an economist at the highest levels of national and international oversight — the U.S. Department of Treasury, the IMF — and before that, you were a Fulbright Research Fellow in Kyiv, Ukraine. What brought you to Michigan and PSC?

Shifting from international and country‐​level economic policy analysis to Michigan public policy has been one of the most involved plans I’ve laid out in my career. Part of it is personal. My wife grew up in Detroit and had a great job opportunity in Michigan, which precipitated my move here as well. We packed up our apartment in Washington, D.C., right at the onset of the coronavirus (COVID‐​19) pandemic, and drove to our new home in southwest Detroit.

In terms of my career transition, I was very motivated to work on state and municipal economic policy issues after almost a decade working on international macroeconomic issues at the U.S. Treasury and the IMF. I wanted to be more involved in tangible, local issues, including in my community, which led me to PSC in June 2020. I feel fortunate that I was able to obtain a great job at a highly regarded firm during an extremely challenging time.

Stephan describes his work on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s response to the Russia and Ukraine crisis that began in 2014 and why it’s especially memorable to him.

Tell us about the type of work you did in D.C.

Most of my work at the IMF and the U.S. Treasury focused on economic policy analysis of advanced, emerging market, and low‐​income economies. This included analyzing risks to the global economy and to specific countries and regions, such as China and Europe, which are major economic partners for the U.S. I often wrote memos for senior Treasury and White House officials, briefed them in person on breaking economic news and developed policy recommendations to support global growth and stability. I was also part of the Treasury team that developed a U.S. response to the Russia and Ukraine crisis in 2014 and years later, including implementing financial sanctions on Russia and providing economic support to Ukraine amid its severe recession. This work was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my career.

Stephan describes his work on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s response to the Russia and Ukraine crisis that began in 2014 and why it’s especially memorable to him.

Tell us about the type of work you did in D.C.

Most of my work at the IMF and the U.S. Treasury focused on economic policy analysis of advanced, emerging market, and low‐​income economies. This included analyzing risks to the global economy and to specific countries and regions, such as China and Europe, which are major economic partners for the U.S. I often wrote memos for senior Treasury and White House officials, briefed them in person on breaking economic news and developed policy recommendations to support global growth and stability. I was also part of the Treasury team that developed a U.S. response to the Russia and Ukraine crisis in 2014 and years later, including implementing financial sanctions on Russia and providing economic support to Ukraine amid its severe recession. This work was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my career.

When you look at state and local economic policy issues in Michigan, what intersections do you see with your past experience? 

It’s a mix of policy and process. On policy, there are many issues that I have worked on at the international or country level that are directly relevant to Michigan. One applicable topic includes assessing a country’s fiscal space, which is related to its capacity to increase expenditures for supporting infrastructure and other priorities, without jeopardizing debt sustainability or access to capital markets. Given Michigan’s large infrastructure needs, the state faces huge spending demands and the corresponding challenges that come with financing those necessities.

On process, I was heavily involved in U.S. interagency coordination efforts to help integrate perspectives across U.S. government agencies for policymaking. This integration ensures that many voices are heard during the decision‐​making process and maximizes the likelihood of implementing sound, effective policies. Similarly, at the state and local levels, coordination among stakeholders, including government officials, nonprofits and community members, is crucial to have an inclusive process.

Stephan talks about his love for cold‐​brew coffee and how he makes it at home.

Your PSC superpower is distilling global economic policy lessons and applying them to Michigan with the help of excellent homemade, cold‐​brew coffee. Which global trends do you think will shape the world economy in the next five to 10 years?

It is challenging to predict the economic future. Any number of factors could transform the global economy. After all, the COVID‐​19 pandemic was a complete shock that virtually no one anticipated and has since dramatically changed our way of life. Still, the ongoing trends of e‑commerce, industry electrification and automation — several of which have advanced further amid the pandemic — will likely transform the world’s economy, including Michigan’s. This offers tremendous opportunities for us to address climate change, boost economic productivity and provide more services to those who really need it. At the same time, there could be major implications for employment, tax bases and social safety nets. Either way, federal and state governments will need to play a role in this transformation through education, social spending and tax policy.

Stephan talks about his love for cold‐​brew coffee and how he makes it at home.

Your PSC superpower is distilling global economic policy lessons and applying them to Michigan with the help of excellent homemade, cold‐​brew coffee. Which global trends do you think will shape the world economy in the next five to 10 years?

It is challenging to predict the economic future. Any number of factors could transform the global economy. After all, the COVID‐​19 pandemic was a complete shock that virtually no one anticipated and has since dramatically changed our way of life. Still, the ongoing trends of e‑commerce, industry electrification and automation — several of which have advanced further amid the pandemic — will likely transform the world’s economy, including Michigan’s. This offers tremendous opportunities for us to address climate change, boost economic productivity and provide more services to those who really need it. At the same time, there could be major implications for employment, tax bases and social safety nets. Either way, federal and state governments will need to play a role in this transformation through education, social spending and tax policy.

What, in your opinion, are the most important qualities in an economist?

Having sound judgment and being humble. In economic analyses or models, judgment needs to be applied. Not every analysis can be based entirely on math or statistics. Sometimes, qualitative judgment needs to be integrated, particularly where there are data gaps or where variables are unclear or unknown. To me, though, being humble is paramount. The global economy is complex and evolving in transformative ways, as is Michigan’s. It is important to recognize and acknowledge that even the most sophisticated economic models cannot predict the future.

Someone once joked that if economists designed the game Trivial Pursuit, it would have 100 questions and 3,000 answers. As naturally curious people, we are drawn to those who can ask hard questions and use their skills to research and analyze the answers. Especially when the outcome is good public policy for the benefit of all. Though we haven’t checked the rules of Trivial Pursuit in a while, we are pretty sure they say something about bonus points for an economist who, when he drives a new car off the lot, it increases in value.