Economics Economy Finance Income Investment Concept

Economics is one of the better-funded and more scientific social sciences, but in some critical ways it is failing us. The main problem, as I see it, is standards: They are either too high or too low. In both cases, the result is less daring and creativity.

Consider academic research. In the 1980s, the ideal journal submission was widely thought to be 17 pages, maybe 30 pages for a top journal. The result was a lot of new ideas, albeit with a lower quality of execution. Nowadays it is more common for submissions to top economics journals to be 90 pages, with appendices, robustness checks, multiple methods, numerous co-authors and every possible criticism addressed along the way.

There is little doubt that the current method yields more reliable results. But at what cost? The economists who have changed the world, such as Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or Friedrich Hayek, typically had brilliant ideas with highly imperfect execution. It is now harder for this kind of originality to gain traction. Technique stands supreme and must be mastered at an early age, with some undergraduates pursuing “pre-docs” to get into a top graduate school.

At the same time, the profession is pursuing a kind of “barbells” strategy. On Twitter (and, earlier, blogs), barriers to entry are very low, and a Ph.D. is not required. That can be a good thing, but quality checks are extremely weak.

Here’s the dirty little secret that few of my fellow economics professors will admit: As those “perfect” research papers have grown longer, they have also become less relevant. Fewer people — including academics — read them carefully or are influenced by them when it comes to policy.

Actual views on politics are more influenced by debates on social media, especially on such hot topics such as the minimum wage or monetary and fiscal policy. The growing role of Twitter doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Social media is egalitarian, spurs spirited debate and enables research cooperation across great distances.

Still, an earlier culture of “debate through books” has been replaced by a new culture of “debate through tweets.” This is not necessarily progress.

By demanding so much rigor in academic research, they’ve created an environment in which most of the economics people actually see is less rigorous.

There is also a political effect. Twitter is a relatively left-wing social medium, and so the tenor of popular economic discourse has moved to the left.

I have mixed feelings about the evolution of ideology in the economics profession. In earlier times there were schools of thought — Keynesian, Austrian, Institutionalist, the Chicago School and so on — associated with coherent world views. That was unscientific, and it led to people embracing both policy and empirical views that weren’t always backed by the evidence.

Explicit schools of thought have since faded — but ideology has not. The new, often unstated dominant ideology is a mix of wokeism and center-left Democratic technocratic policy reasoning.

I am not sure that most economists, who come from many nations and cultures, endorse that approach. They just don’t work very hard against it, and so it is the unstated default norm. Furthermore, more economic research these days is done in large teams, rather than solo, so the incentive is “go along to get along.”

Not long ago, Harvey Mansfield suggested that Harvard, where he has been on the faculty for almost six decades, has not hired a single openly conservative professor in the last 10 years — in any field, not just economics. It’s hard to argue that the political biases so evident on Twitter somehow do not infect the academic side of the profession.

As economics has become more ideological, it has also become less forthcoming about its ideologies. And that has led to less intellectual diversity and fewer radical new ideas. That, in a nutshell, is the main problem with the economics profession. At least our research papers are ever more accurate in their estimates of the coefficients.

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution.

(2) comments


Hiring in Universities are performed fulfilling a confirmation bias of one agenda, not a variety of views. In Economics as other pursuits hiring and grant money are focused only on those who match what is desired for outcome with no room for alternative views. You can see this with the banning on Twitter and other Social Media as well. If you do not follow a particular narrative then you are canceled.

That being said, the “Keynesian” approach to monetary policy does not at all match what Keynes stated regarding government spending. It is an excuse to simply grow spending out of control over time with no restraint. Those who would attempt to bring reality to Economics such as the Austrian School approach gain no traction and have to go to the Mises website and like platforms to find others who understand how Economics actually work. And it is not complex formulas.

Weak minded persons attempt to correct the ills of society by directing government spending, rather than providing the means for people to succeed and be challenged becoming productive members of the community. What made America a land of opportunity was this offering to all for success.

In interacting on the phone with Bend Broadband my phone call was routed to Jamaica. Another call for service was routed to Manila for a Credit Monitoring agency. At least CostCo handled their customer service in Florida. Facebook does not have a telephone customer service. As opposed to the Bend politicians looking to buy a hotel for the homeless why do we not investigate local companies who are sending jobs overseas or not having those jobs even done (Facebook) and look to give the Homeless a hand and dignity with customer service telephone support jobs? No handouts but decent opportunities from which they can boot strap their lives?

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The fact is that Austrian and Chicago-school economic ideology have been greatly weakened by the hive mind of Twitter. I, for one, am thrilled. Mr. Cowen seems butt-hurt. :ThinkingFaceEmoji:

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