But the recent recruiting success of Stanford shows something broader about how the economics profession is changing. The specialties of the new recruits vary, but they are all examples of how the momentum in economics has shifted away from theoretical modeling and toward “empirical microeconomics,” the analysis of how things work in the real world, often arranging complex experiments or exploiting large sets of data. That kind of work requires lots of research assistants, work across disciplines including fields like sociology and computer science, and the use of advanced computational techniques unavailable a generation ago.
That trend is evident across leading economics departments — the traditional powerhouses have plenty of scholars doing work in the same vein, including work by Esther Duflo at M.I.T. on how to test ways to fight global poverty and by Roland G. Fryer Jr. at Harvard on the roots of racial inequality. But the scholars who have newly signed on with Stanford described a university particularly well suited to research in that vein, with a combination of lab space, strong budgets for research support and proximity to engineering talent.
The article is interesting throughout.