Job market papers of 2017-2018

As you may have noticed, I’ve been surveying various job market papers from this year.  So far, here are my subjective impressions of what is going on overall.  The number of money and macro papers is way down.  Development economics is still flourishing and expanding, even relative to a few years ago, though I worry I am not seeing many generalizable results and that the fixed costs of continuing to do this kind of research throughout your career are quite high.  Purely applied areas such as water and transportation are making their way into job market papers at the top schools.  MIT and Harvard are still the two best graduate programs with the best students.  Papers from business and public policy schools, on the technical side, are coming closer and closer to economics, and they may be more interesting, so consider those places for your hiring.  I’m seeing Turkish, Korean, and Chinese graduate students working on the big picture institutional and political economy questions.  The total number of candidates seemed slightly down, though that could be my imagination.


As a consultant working at the project level, I can confirm from my own experience that the development agencies and the consulting market have been oriented toward water, sanitation and transport.

Also there is more capacity building going on than before aimed at assisting subnational level government administrations to improve their management systems and skills.

IT infrastructure, software and skill levels are still primitive in most of the developing world and the level of support by donors is still far below needs. Without modern IT systems, corruption cannot be reduced, because high quality IT is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for integrity of public financial administration. Most water utilities in developing countries do not have accounting systems with proper audit trails.

What I have mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg. I worked for the Local Government Ministry in Syria on the eve of the civil war and was told by the Director of Finance that there were no written operational guidelines for administering funding allocated to either the governorates (provinces) or the municipalities. In the absence of a rule book she spent most of her time on the phone giving directions on how to handle specific transactions. Colleagues in other agencies aid this was the general situation. Practically the entire administration was by ad hoc fiat.

In the 1960s and 1970s the best students from developing countries attending American schools studied mostly economics, many returning to their countries with a Ph.D. in economics to work in the public sector. From Cowen's blog post one might assume that this is a good thing, but that wasn't the view in the 1960s and 1970s, when the majority view was that the best students from developing countries should be studying something useful, such as engineering, so they could return to their countries and build roads and bridges and other projects necessary to economic development. Of course, one must consider the political context back then, when working in the public sector in a developing country was considered heresy in this country, "economic planners" leading their countries on the path to socialism or worse. Today, economics has become part of the mainstream, many of those newly-minted Ph.D.s going to work in the private sector to work with quants and software engineers to develop algorithms to market the sale of consumer products or to squeeze a small profit in what is essentially arbitrage in the financial sector, or to work at a think tank and write papers on the magic of markets and the harm done to markets and economic growth by "regulations" and other intervention by the public sector. Yesterday, Ross Douthat's column asked the question WWYED (what will young evangelicals do). Cowen might write a column asking WWYED (what will young economists do). Douthat isn't so sure today's young evangelicals are all that different from their predecessors. Are today's young economists any different from the idealistic young economics Ph.D.s in the 1960s and 1970s?

So, job market rumors - will Prof. Cowen be appearing in a national newsweekly in the future, or will he remain ensconced in the business bosom of a billionaire with no connection to GMU?

Does anyone have advice on how one would go about surveying all of the various job market papers as they hit the internet? Is there a central depository, or does one have to go to the economic department webpages of all the various academic institutions to see what's on offer? Thanks in advance!

Great idea. Start one, Mr. Douglas!

The bigger question is whether there are any academic jobs for all these wonderful economists or are they going to be consigned to the private sector. Certainly most of us who went to graduate school (me in chemistry in 1970) had the intention of an academic career which never came. Fortunately, I found rewarding work elsewhere.

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