The AEAs

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the American Economic Assocation.  I was mostly stuck in a hotel room interviewing job candidates but what David Warsh reports about the conference I can also say was true of our interview candidates.

When historians look back on economics in the last quarter of the 20th century, one of its more striking features will be the explosion in the quantity and quality of empirical work that was done…

[T]he advent of the desk-top computer made it possible to make a distinguished career doing something besides theory, namely sorting through the rich details of the real world in hopes of illuminating underlying mechanisms that are supposed to exist, or even finding relationships whose existence was unexpected.   

That much was on conspicuous last week when the American Economic Association and its many affiliates held its annual meeting here….

Work was presented on all kinds of of practical topics. For example: cars,  gas and pollution policies; downtown parking and traffic congestion;  kidney exchange; private funding in china’s education system; patent examiners impact on enforcement;  rural and urban poverty in Africa; the sources of racial differences in health care in the United States; the relationship between wealth and democracy; the U.S. gender pay gap; the growing population of postdoctoral students in U.S. universities; the question of who receives IPO allocations and why  — all of them buttressed by careful empirical work….

And in the forthcoming spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, David Colander of Middlebury College reports the results of a survey of students in seven top graduate schools of economics that he conducted, first in the early 1980s, then again last year….

The proportion of those reporting a belief that empirical work was very important had doubled (to 30 percent), while those describing excellence in math as vital to a successful career halved (to 30 percent). 


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