The future of economics

In a nutshell, foreigners and empirical work:

This short paper collects and studies the CVs of 112 assistant professors in the top-ten American departments of economics. The paper treats these as a glimpse of the future. We find evidence of a strong brain drain. We find also a predominance of empirical work.

Three-quarters of the bachelor degrees were obtained from abroad.  Macro, econometrics, and labor economics are the most popular fields, see p.8 for the full list.  Here is the paper, hat tip to Pluralist Economics Review.


It doesn't look like the paper presents any background by which we could treat their data sample taken during January 2007 as a glimpse of the future.

I wonder how correlated the current state of economics is with the CVs of assistant professors at top-ten departments in 1997, 1987, 1977 or 1967.

NYU in the top 10? I don't know about that.

I'm not feeling as threatened. Macro and econometrics are pretty close to voodoo economics. Labor economics is better, especially on the empirical front, although you still get the occasional paper purporting to show that minimum wages and immigration restrictions are costless to society.

From the paper:

" Many people who criticize economists as obsessively mathematical have a view that is out of date; our data paint a clear and more modern picture."

This is a vague statement that might suggest to some that there is a dearth of current empiricism on the trends and consequences of usage of mathematical complexity in economics. This is incorrect. Here are two examples:

I.) Coelho and McClure (SEJ, 2005; "Theory versus Application: Does Complexity Crowd Out Evidence?) found evidence of both: 1) a significant trend toward increased mathematical complexity in the top general interest journals in economics (AER,EJ,JPE, QJE); and in a sample of AER articles (1963 – 1996) they found evidence that “mathematically complex articles were less operational and were less likely to be cited in articles containing operational statements.†

II.)Coelho and McClure (EJW, 2008; "The Market for Lemmas: Evidence that Complex Models Rarely Operate in Our World") provide evidence that: 1) in the final decades of the last century, mathematical complexity in economics expanded exponentially beyond the levels that Donald Gordon (1955) decried as “incautious;† 2)using sample of lemma-heavy articles in JET, their evidence suggests that operational “dry holes† are a likely outgrowth of economic analytics involving extraordinarily lengthy/complex mathematical chains; 3) Among the most-often-cited articles that are published in the AER, EJ, JPE, or QJE, lemma usage was almost non-existent for the period 1970 to 2002; this despite the expanding “market for lemmas† over the time period; and 4)Consistent with the Gordon hypothesis, lemma usage was much less common among most-often-cited articles whose purpose was “economic analytics† as opposed to those whose purpose was “statistical/ econometrics† for the period 1970 to 2002.

So the authors may want to do a little more reading in the area and consider refining their vague assertion that, again:

"Many people who criticize economists as obsessively mathematical have a view that is out of date; our data paint a clear and more modern picture."

Raymond is probably correct. I'm in the same boat, majoring in econ, taking math to prepare for graduate work. I can say that, in my opinion, the TERRIBLE state of math education in secondary schools is at fault. Students in schools in Europe, China, or India (among others) can expect to have a working knowledge of college algebra and calculus leaving high school. More and more often the average US college freshman is having to remediate at the 095/100 level for math (algebra to pre-algebra). The fact that top flight American high school students stand at the level of the above average foreign high school student should be shocking.

There is an unsurprising consistency in seeing more swipes at a swathe of labor economists' and most trade economists' views. Steve Sailer deserves some sort of all-MR idée fixe prize.

If Americans choose to do different things than being an assistent professor because the those other things pay better, shouldn't we ask why those other professions are not hiring foreigners in the same amounts as universities do?

One possibility: in the business world, culture-specific skills are more important than in academics.


With respect to US immigration rules, it is a lot easier to import assistant professors than it is to import workers in other classifications.

For example, there is a finite (and wildly oversubsribed) number of H1-B visas for all professions, and a separate, unlimited pool for professors. Also, the labor certification process is a lot easier, and it's also easier to obtain "exceptional talent" or "national interest" exemptions to the labor certification process for academics, especially for the kind of people hired by the top schools.

Outside of hockey players, academics face the greatest amount of foreign competition of pretty much any profession in the US. That said, the number of Americans getting econ doctorates is much smaller than the annual demand.

And remember, foreigners who did their doctorates in the US already have many of the appropriate culture-specific skills. They are about as employable in the private sector as native doctorate holders, in my experience (excepting the many Chinese with very poor spoken English. It's awful that these guys get unleashed on students in the lecture hall.)

Bartman, if I misinterpreted Stephen Downes' comment, then I apologize to him. But I honestly do not understand what else this could mean:
At this point, the folly of abnegating a free and equitable public education system for will become sadly apparent.

If that's not referring to the university system, then what is it talking about? The U.S. has a free (if not equitable) system of primary and secondary education, so it must refer to the university system, yes, meaning that it should be free? At least I would think so, but if not, then I do apologize.

Curunir; I agree that the statement is rather obtuse, my interpretation could be faulty. Maybe he means "when the US can no longer import its talent, the consequences of having a crappy primary/secondary education system will become more apparent".

That point sort of makes sense, but I think the elite US schools will still be able to attract enough talent from anywhere, and the private primary/secondary school system will generate enough decent students to populate the upper echelons of American society. In terms of the socio-cultural and politico-economic league standings, the gap between the US and the rest of the world will shrink, but I don't think the US will relinquish its position at the top in my lifetime.

The 50 or so top "schools" in the US of NWO aspire to international leadership. In fact, I am instructed that "international reputation" is the only measure of quality. Eventually or even soon, the elite faculty will be nearly all foreign born. If such absolute quality is the only measure of acceptance, why are not most of the undergrads also foreign? 95% seems the right target. The schools hardly need the cash. They can live off their trust funds, especially if managed by econ grads of the quality of the denizens of this site.

Why don't the Ivies and ivy-wannabes spurn any lucre from their intellectual (and I dare say social and moral) inferiors and educate only the "best and the brightest" from China, India, and the like. The gain to the next American generation would be manifest.

1) Those uneducated "white" people who are not going into universities, are simply selecting jobs where they can be rewarded by private industry, frankly without working as hard, partly as an underpaid slave to a mediocre PhD sponsor. Also, The PhD in private industry has a negative effect on earning potential. It generally means something bad about the candidate. Instead, and students know this, "A Protestant Ethic and an MBA" are still tickets to wealth, because analytical models describe "IS's" and ethical constructs supported by fairly simple data, describe "shoulds".

2) The statements conflict with the data that shows that we have too many people in grad programs doing too much flawed and irrelevant work. There simply are not the need for more professors, and the plethora of students is simply making the lack of sarcity a depressing factor on potential incomes.

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