Should-Read: Matthew Kahn: Does Culture Matter? The Case of Academic Economics

September 13, 2017

Should-Read: (1) Don’t be a dick. (2) Cast as broad a net as you can. (3) Encourage the young to ask “why is that so?” and to challenge the old—there is great value in a “Talmudic” culture. (4) Make sure the Olds start from the premise that the Youngs are smarter than they are—better trained, with more energy, selected from more people in a harsher selection environment—and thus to be listened to rather than squelched. (5) Make sure the Olds know that they retain more status by gracefully yielding than by enforcing their mistaken intellectual orthodoxies.

I find myself struck by the differential reactions of George Borjas when challenged on sexism in economics by a woman, Janet Currie, and by a man, Justin Wolfers. George to Janet:

Currie takes an even easier approach to dismiss EJMR: sexism. I personally find the forum refreshing. There’s still hope for mankind when many of the posts written by a bunch of over-educated young social scientists illustrate a throwing off of the shackles of political correctness and reflect mundane concerns that more normal human beings share: prestige, sex, money, landing a job, sex, professional misconduct, gossip, sex, and putting down “reg monkeys,” a subspecies of economists that cares little about conceptual issues and lives simply to run regressions)…

George says: what Janet claims is “sexism” is actually “a throwing off of the shackles of political correctness” and “reflect[s] mundane concerns that more normal human beings share”.

George to Justin:

“While there is some value in that forum, there is also a great deal that is offensive and disturbing. The problem is I’m not sure exactly where to draw [the] line.” This precisely summarizes my feelings about EJMR, in particular, and social media, in general. There’s an amazing amount of bullying, of offensive language, of demeaning people, of making fun of how people look, and on and on. It often makes a high school cafeteria look like the Magic Kingdom, the friendliest place on earth. At the same time, amidst all that offensive material, one can find posts that are very useful. In the EJMR context, the posts on professional misconduct in economics are extremely valuable. It is likely that much of that information would have been hidden away in the darkest room by the guilty parties had they not been uncovered by the forum. There is indeed a tradeoff. Unlike most people who seem so certain of what the world should look like, however, I just don’t know what the solution is…

Mostly it’s (1): Don’t be a dick. And don’t be a meta-dick by making excuses for those who want to be dicks, or wringing your hands and claiming that figuring out how to provide strong incentives for people not to be dicks is too hard a problem.

Matthew Kahn: Does Culture Matter? The Case of Academic Economics: “I stumbled across this very interesting (and depressing) post by Claudia Sahm…

…Does academic economics have a bad culture? The goal of academic economics is to build up knowledge to provide a scientific method for judging the efficiency and equity consequences of different public policies and to train the next generation of economists. Does our culture further this goal? If not, how did we get into this equilibrium and if we are in a “bad equilibrium” where we are losing talent because of bad culture, how do we switch equilibrium?…

In a “rat race”, how much of one’s progress is due to rising by merit vs. tearing down others?… At USC Economics,  we are thinking about what are a set of “rules of the game” so that PHD students, junior faculty and senior faculty all learn from showing up to the department. Mutual respect is a “two way street”. Tom Sargent said that we are all students but differ with respect to our vintages.

The challenge in economics is “directed search”.  If a senior faculty member believes that he is unlikely to learn from interacting with a PHD student from a LRM (ha!) then he will focus his attention on the HRM PHD student. Given our finite time, this search strategy may be “individually rational” but it begins to create monopoly power that is re-enforced as that HRM PHD student takes a job at a MRM Assistant Professor job and is named to the NBER. Small initial condition differences do matter in a world of finite time and attention. If we add to this sexism and racism then this exacerbates the challenge…

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