Imagine giving all professional economists (and other academics) an essay test. Determine their area of expertise, and then ask them to write a twenty-page essay on one of the most basic questions in that field. So it might be “Why did China do so well?” Or “what are the determinants of economic growth?” Or “What causes business cycles?”
Some would be more specific, such as “What makes nominal prices sticky?”, or “Why are the special features of platform competition important?” How about “How can we encourage hospitals to compete more effectively?”
They can use some numbers, but mostly they should write out the best answers they can.
Then grade the exams.
At which universities would professors do the best? In which fields would the researchers do the best, recognizing that some face more difficult problems than do others? In which countries?
How much should our profession be focused on being able to write good answers to such questions?
I am indebted to Chris Blattman and Arnold Kling for useful exchanges related to this topic.