Table talk — what is the best new work in economics?

by on February 9, 2006 at 7:25 am in Economics | Permalink

We had lunch with Eric Helland yesterday, and the talk came around to a standard question: what is the most interesting work in the economics profession today?  Steve Levitt and the improved use of instrumental variables was mentioned.  Shleifer and Acemoglu.  World Bank data sets on corruption and governance.  I added the following:

1. Recent work showing the Industrial Revolution was a more gradual process than had been thought.

2. Neuroeconomics, albeit more on promise than delivery.

3. The work of Abhijit Banerjee and his MIT "lab" on randomized trials for developing economies.

I then grasped for another option and came up with:

4. A better understanding of the importance of peer groups; this is happening mostly outside of the economics profession.  I was thinking of that study which showed how much campus alcoholism can be reduced, simply by spreading information about how disgusting the other students find your drunkenness.

Those were my gut reactions rather than a well-thought out list.  My apologies to the thousands of unjustly excluded economists, some of whom read this blog.  I invite other econ bloggers to take up the same question.

1 Gabriel Mihalache February 9, 2006 at 8:21 am

I know this is off-topic but while we’re at it can someone suggest a few names for economists that took up the defense of laissez-faire on strict economic terms, let’s say after the retirement of M. Friedman? Is anyone still doing the kind of work that would support the kind of advocacy done by Hayek or Friedman?

2 Cb February 9, 2006 at 2:25 pm

This is a thread I would love to see expanded upon.
I often lament the fact that economists are so unwilling to be publicly
enthusiastic about new ideas. I realize that there is a cost to backing
the wrong horse but when interesting ideas are being worked I think there
is value to dissemination even if they fail to pan out. With that in mind,
whose work in particular prompted #4?

3 jn February 10, 2006 at 12:03 am

I don’t think Tyler is just talking about Clark and the IR. He’s referring to the entire Cliometric research agenda/debate that streams from Crafts-Harley, Mokyr, etc. through to the latest work by Clark and others.

4 $0.02 February 12, 2006 at 12:25 am

I’m surprised that no one is talking about Experimental Economics. There is some exciting work in Game theory on making somewhat less ad hoc eq refinements, and the like. Particularly some new notions of fairness and why it is that actors take suboptimal actions.

Also, theres some interesting computational work on the distant hirzon, nothing there yet, but Ken Judd has some interesting thoughts, and programmatic solutions may help address problems for which there were no equilibria.

Arrow has been really interested in complexity work (a la Santa Fe) that may really go somewhere eventually.

Those I think could really advance the field. Theres also gret new stuff that might not advance economics, but uses economics to make life better. Theres a David Card paper lately that is the first good treatment of what happens when you raise the minimum wage.

5 linda October 9, 2006 at 7:35 am
6 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 12:43 am

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