Merit and Privilege in Economics

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 10:15 AM – 12:15 PM

Hyatt Regency Chicago, Acapulco
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: John J. Siegfried, Vanderbilt University

Who Runs the AEA? Leadership Hierarchy in American Economics

Kevin D. Hoover
,
Duke University
Andrej Svorencik
,
University of Mannheim

Abstract

The American Economic Association (AEA) comprises approximately 20,000 professional economists, belonging mostly to hundreds of universities, government and international agencies, and businesses. It is a key institution of the economics discipline, serving as the public face of the profession and operating the central labor market for economists in the United States, which is also important internationally. The governance of the AEA is formally democratic, although it is widely perceived to be run by a consistently narrow group of prominent economists. To investigate the nature of the leadership of the AEA and to try to understand how that leadership has changed over time as the economics profession has developed in the post-World War II era, we have constructed an extensive biographical database. The database is essentially a complete record of the leadership from 1950-2014, covering the offices of President/President-elect, Vice-president, members of the Executive Board as well as the Nominating Committee. For each person we have identified education and employment histories and academic and other honors. We have compiled similar information on losing candidates for VP and Executive Board positions, holders of notable awards who have not been involved with the AEA, other most cited economists and a random sample of ordinary members of the AEA over the same period. We use the database to document patterns in the leadership, including identifying a small core set of universities to which the majority of the leadership are affiliated through education and/or employment. We show how the composition of the core has shifted and narrowed with the expansion of graduate education in the postwar period. And we address the question, is the narrow core a response to merit or institutionalization of a self-perpetuating elite?

Networks of Leading Economists

Andrej Svorencik
,
University of Mannheim

Abstract

To economists worldwide, for more than half a century Harvard, Chicago and MIT have been among the most iconic and influential economics departments. Altogether they have produced over 5,400 economics Ph.D. graduates since the inception of their graduate programs in 1875, 1892 and 1940 respectively. For 96% of them we were able to determine their advisors. This allows us to reconstruct the departmental advisor-advisee networks. We observe that each department can be characterized by a small circle of advisors who have supervised a disproportionally large portion of students. Furthermore, these productive advisors very often graduated from the same department thereby connecting generations of students with faculty within each department. We identify even sixth generation Ph.D. graduates - that is students whose advisors and their advisors dating five generations back (spanning just a 50 year period) were faculty and with the exception of the first generation advisor they were also graduates of the same department. For the first time we link research productivity in terms of publications in top journals with Ph.D. production. We compare both productivities for advisors from within and outside of the departmental networks. By overlapping departmental networks further extensive ties are found revealing the extent to which the highest stratum of the economics profession is self-contained.

Defining Excellence: 70 Years of the John Bates Clark Medal

Beatrice Cherrier
,
University of Caen Normandy
Andrej Svorencik
,
University of Mannheim

Abstract

In 2017 the John Bates Clark Medal turns 70 and the 39th medal is going to be awarded. Often dubbed the “baby Nobel Prize,” widely discussed by economists and covered in the press, it has become a marker of excellence in economics research in the eyes of the profession and the public.
Yet, after three initial unanimous choices of laureates (Paul Samuelson, Kenneth Boulding, Milton Friedman), the award was increasingly challenged. The prize was not awarded in 1953, thereafter almost discontinued three times. The selection procedure and the age limit have been recurring issues. Nor could the AEA leadership agree on what kind of theory (micro or macro) deserved recognition. In the 1960s and 1970s many young economists felt the award was biased toward theory and asked for the establishment of a separate “Wesley Clair Mitchell award” for empirical and policy-oriented work. Through the lens of this award we trace how economists have over the years disagreed over the definition of merit and excellence. We examine how the AEA committee on honors and awards reacted to the criticism that the prize lacks diversity in terms of laureates’ origin, affiliation, research field and method. We provide a quantitative analysis of the evolving profile of laureates in order to understand whether the John Bates Clark award contributed to reproduction or diversification within the discipline.
Discussant(s)
John J. Siegfried
,
Vanderbilt University
Marianne Bertrand
,
University of Chicago
Ben Golub
,
Harvard University
David C. Colander
,
Middlebury College
JEL Classifications
  • A1 - General Economics
  • I2 - Education and Research Institutions