After 18 months and repeated promises from the journal editors, I had no referee reports and reluctantly withdrew my article. I had never withdrawn an article before but this was the second time I had been ill-treated at this journal. I thought about venting my anger here but remembering Ayn Rand’s dictum that justice is about rewarding virtue more than punishing vice I decided to take the high road and reflect on some truly great editors.
Top of my list is Sam Peltzman at the Journal of Law and Economics. In my experience, JLE referees are very good but none better than Peltzman himself. Peltzman reads submissions and usually returns his own comments. Every paper I have ever submitted to the JLE has been improved because of Peltzman’s comments.
Aaron Edlin at the Berkeley Press Journals. I’m a big fan of the BePress journals; referee reports in 60 days, submit once and be evaluated for four journals simultaneously, electronic submission and referee reports and an opportunity to ask the referees questions anonymously. The technology wouldn’t work without a great editor, however, and Edlin writes very thoughtful, intelligent comments, he also has a good sense for quality and what is important.
Robert Higgs at the Independent Review. No one helps an author improve not just the quality of argument but the quality of writing more than Bob Higgs. Working with him is always a pleasure (note that I am assistant editor at the Review as well as a contributing author). The Independent Review is not a top academic journal but it’s an intelligent blend of philosophy, politics and economics that is accessible to laypeople as well as to academics.
Ed Glaeser, Robert Barro, and Lawrence Katz at the Quarterly Journal of Economics. I’ve published several papers at the JLE, the BePress journals and the Independent Review but I have only rejections to show for my submissions to the QJE. Nevertheless, I hold the editors in high esteem because they read submissions before they go to referees and they send back quick responses. It’s one thing to be rejected with a stupid report after 12 months it’s quite another to be told, interesting paper but not for us, try at journal X after just 3 days (I have heard that Barro used to reject papers in hours but this made people mad so now he holds them for at least a few days). The QJE is the most interesting journal in economics today.
The great editors are productive and generate quick turnarounds and they share some other virtues. The great editors have personality and verve and it shows in their journals – the journals I have mentioned are not just collections of articles they are a reflection of the editor’s vision about what economics is and where it should be going. Finally, unlike many others, the great editors in my view don’t model themselves as bouncers whose job is to prevent the riff-raff from penetrating the sanctum sanctorum. Instead, the great editors encourage bold ideas and work to raise the marginal product of their authors and of the profession.
Comments are open if you want to nominate some of the other great editors.