Rob Shimer on the new Nobel Laureates

Read his short piece here and I thank RSK for the pointer.

From another direction, David Z. sends along to me Bruno Frey's Economists in the PITS (pdf), about the scarcity of slots in the top journals.


Frey's article fails to think through the market implications of his claim. If academic jobs require top publications but publication space is limited, then there should be a shortage of successful academics. Lots of Ass. Profs would be thus denied tenure, particularly at lower ranked schools. Where is this evidence?

Instead, departments must (and DO) adjust their tenure standards based on their ranking. Publishing standards are stricter at MIT than at the University of Montana. Prices adjust, markets clear.

Also, the link to Frey's article is broken.

Friedman himself tended to analyze things in a Marshallian manner, it was the later Chicagoans (starting with Lucas) who went the Walrasian route.

I was going to say the same thing. Is there a concept in economics to describe "losses to competition?"


There was an article (which i don't have a link to) which showed that the percentage of articles in JPE and AER and QJE from top 10 depts trended strongly downwards for the last few decades. The big exception was QJE in the 90s when Shleifer was in charge and his buddies' (and colleagues in Cambridge) pubs there spiked. I would tend to think of that as good evidence of an obvious bias. Sussing out other biases in the overall top 3 or 4 journals might not be so obvious. But don't assume it's not there. After all, like the NYT best seller list, merely ending up in AER increases the prob
that your article gets cited. So your evidence on citation may involve endogeneity.

@corgi, I don't understand how time trends make an argument for bias. If anything, it makes an argument for a change in bias (or something else), not for the existence of bias, which is a level.

@k, the evidence I presented was in response to your claim that often articles in top journals end up not being cited. I did not claim citations were a measure of quality. What I did claim is that paper quality is fairly obvious and agreed upon by most economists. I also believe that papers are generally correctly sorted into journals. I even proposed a (hypothetical) test. Are you claiming that you would take the other side of my 99:1 bet? If so, could you elaborate on the sorting failure?


Sorry for the confusion. When you wrote "The fact is that many articles that get published never get cited. Even in these top journals. Certainly seems like wasted effort. How can you not see that this is a problem?" I interpreted you as saying that the low citation count of top journals was a problem, presumably because the low citation count is indicative of poor quality. My responses about top journals having extensive citations was only in response to that.

As to your broader point, I think we need to delineate between two separate claims: First - that the academic/publication market is not working correctly. Second - disagreements about preferences and what's important to be a good academic.

My very first post, and Frey's article, was about the first claim. Frey claimed a problem in the structure of the academic market. I found his logic and evidence lacking. In particular, his logic implied some outcomes that do not make sense to me - such as the implication that getting tenure should therefore be harder at lower ranked schools.

Your argument, on the other hand, appears to be dealing with the second claim; in essence, the profession's demand for quality is erroneous from your perspective. And thus the market outcome, even if working properly, is one you disagree with. I find it reasonable, if often a waste of time, to bemoan other people's preferences. But you cannot cite evidence of these preference misalignments and use them to justify Frey's claims about how the academic market is poorly functioning.

Publishing in a top journal simply means you are contributing to an ongoing conversation among the people who populate "top journal land". To the extent it lines up with interesting research, it does. To the extent that you are pandering to elites who like to see their work elaborated on and parroted, it is a completely wasteful and shameless rat race.

Is it "wasteful"? Many things are wasteful, like R&D, lobbying, etc. But they hash out a process that needs to be worked through --- determining what questions are interesting and which aren't. In the meantime, bubbles exist around questions that will be forgotten, and this is the huge problem. Social choice theory is not really useful, but it answers fundamental questions about democracy, which is nice, and points the way to more productive conversations. But after May's Theorem and Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, and maybe some of Sen's work, what else is added? But the professors that worked in that bubble were certainly rewarded.

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