Post-ASSA 2019: lingering issues in academic economics

This was originally just going to be a bullet-point in a What I’ve Been Reading post, but it ended up quite crowded and most crucially, I couldn’t figure out how to embed tweets in between sub–bullet points.

Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker explained it thusly. For whatever reason (the “reason” is deemed to be relatively uninteresting by economists–figuring that out is what the soft sciences like sociology do), women tend to be more responsible for things like housework and child rearing. This is tiring work. Hence, women voluntarily choose less demanding—and lower-paying—jobs. Furthermore, even in the same job they will typically have less experience because they have been busy with housework. Both of those translate into justifiably lower wages. It’s a result of voluntary, conscious choices and free market processes.

To be fair, your econ instructor may then add some additional factors as perhaps being important. Maybe some people have a “taste for discrimination,” for example. Of course, over time this should go away, too, since the employers without such an irrational taste will hire better workers and outcompete the bigots. Yay for the market! Regardless of any addenda, however, the core theory one learns in most intro microeconomics classes is that your contribution determines your remuneration. Low remuneration? Low contribution.

Now stop and think about it: who among the members of an introductory-level economics class is this likely to attract? For whom is “you get what you deserve” likely to strike a chord? Women? People of color? White males? I’m sure I don’t have to answer that.

From the Globe and Mail:

“An esteemed professor in my field recently told me that the economics profession has no more of a gender or racial diversity problem than the National Basketball Association. He and I were at a conference social event at the time, and he was sipping a glass of wine, but I’m pretty sure he was stone-cold sober and serious.”

…it also deprives economics, in general, of its best chance to serve the public most effectively. A narrow pipeline of economists has created a profession vulnerable to groupthink. Lacking the widest possible range of perspectives, life experiences, and expertise, the profession stands to miss crucial information, and make poor decisions.

How different would US economic policy be if people from ethnic minorities more consistently took part in policymaking? How different would policies be if the macroeconomic models they were founded on more fully reflected people’s lived experiences? A black man living in the US doesn’t need a research study to tell him his chances of good employment and decent credit are worse than for his white peers. But maybe a policymaker does.

  • On transatlantic bias in the profession:

  • On elitism in the profession, vis-à-vis the tyranny of the infamous “top-5” economics journals:

The point is a familiar one:

  • On the job market experience:

Regarding the first tweet, this memo by the mentioned Harvard PhD students Kathryn Holston and Anna Stansbury