Chris Blattman

Old economists never die, and they don’t even fade away?

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Daniel Hammermesh notes that published articles are in top economics journals are no longer so dominated by young economists.

What has changed? I believe the answer lies in the changing nature of technology in the profession, a slowdown in the expansion of the technological frontier. The training in a top-notch PhD programme today is not that qualitatively different from what I received in the late 1960s (I was born in 1943); my training then would in every respect have been unintelligible to an economist trained in the early 1920s. In some fields the slowdown in technology is obvious. In my own field of labour economics, for example, there has, if anything, been technological regress.

What does this discussion tell us about the economics profession? There’s hope for us older economists – the slowdown in technological advances has made the profession less like pure mathematics, more like a humanistic field. Old folks are demonstrably more able to compete at the frontiers of research than before. For younger economists, it might be a bit depressing. They no longer have the same advantage of the novelty of their skills as my generation did – the earlier unlikelihood that an ‘old guy’ would be intellectually readily substitutable for them.

This seems reasonable, though it ignores the editorial process, and the extent to which editors might be selecting differently. Perhaps older economists have “captured” the journals more than before and distribute the spoils to their cohort, consciously or not. I have no idea whether this is true or not. Idle speculation. But I always like to look for the imperfect market explanations alongside the perfect market ones.

8 Responses

  1. This is true in biological sciences, my field, also. The driver is the fact that researchers need to show publication in “high impact” journals for grant funding.

  2. Note to fellow econ students, from Hammermesh’s article: “I have seen no research that distinguishes the relative importance of these four explanations.”

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