Can Academic Economics be Saved? 7/31
Allison Schrager and I disagree
In our Zoom discussion last Monday, Schrager mentioned that pension economics, which was her dissertation topic, raises many interesting issues, but academic economists seem only to be interested in the inequality aspect. Looking at the American Association meetings and at articles in the American Economic Review journal, one can also see a clear trend toward a higher proportion of papers on gender, race, and inequality, with a lower proportion on other topics.
But Schrager is optimistic that economics will revert to something like what it was years ago. There will be political and intellectual diversity. There will be free debate. Ideology will not destroy intellectual rigor. Important issues will not be overlooked, and the obsession with gender, race and inequality will die down.
Schrager believes that students who go into economics are seeking real world relevance, not luxury beliefs. She also thinks that the intellectual pendulum is bound to swing back from the excesses of wokism.
On the pessimistic side, I would point out that both Schrager and I ended up not in academia—and happy about it. This may illustrate that people with less of a bent toward progressive ideology may select out of academia.
Also, John Cochrane’s struggle against the bureaucracy of the American Economic Association (and the apparent hopelessness of that struggle) shows me that another administrative apparatus has been captured by the progressives. They are not likely to yield control.
With people like Schrager and me selecting out of academia, and people like Cochrane aging out of it, I fear that we are headed to a point of no return. Ph.D programs are hard for anyone to complete. If not being a progressive means that you feel like you are in a hostile environment, you are very likely to drop out or not get started in the first place.
I think that economics as I knew it will only survive in a network-based university.
Arnold has covered the positive aspect of the question, I think it is worth considering the normative aspect. I absolutely acknowledge that many great minds have devoted themselves to advancing the science of economics over the past 100 years, and have made many important findings. I still wonder if the yield was positive. Would the world really be a worse place if all the Nobel memorial prize winning economists had found work in private sector economics/statistics/business/law/meteorology or whatever? Economics journals would be publishing articles by industry researchers, or lay experts etc. Example: With all due credit to Stiglitz and Rothschild and Akerloff and Yellen and all the other remarkable asymmetric information innovators, is it really that hard to believe that private sector economists working in the insurance or finance sector would have come with similar insights? Obviously investing in bad economic research is the worst of all outcomes, but investing little public money in economic research may be a better idea than sustaining even the old infrastructure that Arnold and Allison fondly remember.
Sadly, all too true.
Republicans need to define the categories to be protected against discrimination so as to include Republicans, Christians, and pro-life believers.
Then sue colleges that have been secretly, and illegally (?), discriminating against hiring such folk.
In parallel, no tax-exempt org that practices such discrimination should be tax-exempt, nor should students going to such a place be eligible for Federal loans.
J. Haidt and most "moderate" Democrats probably agree with Schrager - but are mostly wrong. Neither UATX (Bari Weiss plus) nor Ralston (Jordan Peterson), will be in the top 100, much less top 10, before 2030 (90% guess).
Cut off gov't money to orgs that discriminate.
On the other hand, society, production, finance and gov't will be changing so much that "economics as I knew it" will be evolving far away from what was previously "known" no matter what.