I saw that circulating as an April Fool’s joke, but is it such a crazy idea? Here would be a few effects:
1. Submissions would decline, thus liberating some time for editors and referees. This is valuable in its own right, and furthermore remaining decisions might be made with greater care. And presumably the remaining submissions would be those with a higher chance of acceptance.
2. To some extent departments would pick up the submission fee. This would favor researchers in wealthier departments, though whether this is good or bad I am not sure. And even the most flush departments would find this pretty steep and I don’t think would offer carte blanche reimbursement.
3. It would favor senior and wealthier colleagues over junior colleagues. That sounds bad to most people, but is it? Favoring the wealthier senior colleagues might help limit the arms race for “here is my 90-page paper that has performed every possible cross-check of the results.” It also might lower the return to technique, as younger researchers tend to be more up on the latest math but they are also less broad and by definition less experienced.
4. Graduate students in particular would be less likely to submit, especially from lower-tier departments. It would be harder for job candidates from the non-top schools to prove themselves by publishing in the AER.
5. Papers would be “shopped around” more to seminars before being submitted.
6. Papers would become longer, which is probably a bad thing.
7. It might select for overconfident economists from wealthier families.
8. The AER would no longer “get all the best papers,” at least as such things are perceived. That could very well be good! Why should one journal have such a lock?
Would the AEA take in more revenue with this plan?
What else? What is in fact the optimal submission fee for a journal where publications can be worth tens of thousands of dollars (or sometimes much more) there? Why should the authors/submitters be charged so little?