Heterodox Economics Newsletter

Issue 267 August 10, 2020 web pdf Heterodox Economics Directory

If you have ever doubted that the economics profession has some serious issues with lack of diversity & predatory behavior, I would strongly advise you to read the recent post on Claudia Sahm's blog coming with the telling title 'Economics is a disgrace'. Most probably, the post is also an important read for those who have suspected that the observed lack of diversity in econ is somehow related to predatory behavior - which is a tricky question after all, since the latter is much harder to measure than the former.

Most heterodox economists are acutely aware of a lack of theoretical diversity in economics and have some experience with regard to the predatory behavior employed to keep things as they are. Indeed, when drawing on my own experience, I find that when writing up a paper with the intention to submit it to a mainstream journal (indeed, I do that sometimes and, in a few cases, have even been successful in getting a piece published), I write the paper differently: I refrain from putting any theoretical considerations in the paper, I am as modest as possible when it comes to criticizing anything that could be deduced from conventional textbook knowledge and I even start to cite differently to make my own general orientation less transparent for reviewers – all with the aim to not alienate my mainstream reviewers too much. In short, I start practicing what has been called preference falsification, i.e. to conceal or modify my true view on the subject, typically by sticking very close to the empirics. In doing so, I manage to keep the preference falsification to a minimum, although this is still far from satisfying.

I am not alone with this: one day, I met a very prestigious, albeit a little unconventional economist associated with one of the top schools in mainstream economics. We had some conversation in a very small group and to my surprise he told us that he thinks of himself as a heterodox thinker. I had the strong impression that he would not openly admit that in front of his more immediate colleagues, simply because it would damage his reputation as a creative and gifted researcher. If my impression was true, this would make preference falsification a kind of full-fledged academic lifestyle.

Some people have no interest in engaging in such preference falsification and this is a good thing (I also could not bear to do that regularly). The pity is that such people typically do not survive in economics and simply leave the field. And in this context, it is important to acknowledge that a lack of diversity in people is related to a lack of diversity in concepts and ideas on various levels.

As just indicated, I think that conceptual monism in economics contributes to the observed lack of diversity as it signals that the alternative perspectives on economic issues, that come with greater diversity in staff, are not appreciated in our discipline. This signal drives talented students towards other disciplines, which are more open to a pluralist approch to social science, or out of academia at all.

Furthermore, research on diversity often suggests that, if done right, increasing diversity in staff leads to an increase in diversity in perspectives and, hence, creativity (e.g. here or here). Hence, keeping economics white & male also serves to bolster the institutional dominance of the current mainstream.

Finally, combining the observations of sensible and open-minded people within the mainstream like Claudia Sahm with the experiences of heterodox economists in the profession (see, for instance, here for some anecdotal accounts) suggests that the overall amount of bullying and predatory behavior in economics is even higher than what would be expected from taking only one interpretation of diversity – in terms of identity or in terms of theory – into consideration. After some reflection, I think that the entanglement between these two different levels of disciplinary exclusion would indeed merit more in-depth considerations by asking questions such as these: do heterodox econ departments show greater diversity in their academic staff? Do heterodox journals show a greater diversity of authors? Do heterodox conferences benefit from a greater diversity in terms of keynote speakers, presenters and attendees?

If someone could take the time off to shed some light on this important question, we could probably get a better grip on the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion that have shaped the economic profession for decades by now. In addition, it could also help to better understand how heterodox economics itself can become more inclusive (my impression is that we are more inclusive than the mainstream, but actually this bar is so low that I would like to avoid this comparison at all).

All the best,

Jakob

PS: After writing this up, I wanted to acknowledge that the AEA has indeed recognized and accepted that lack of diversity (in terms of identity) is a real issue. This is not only reflected, up to some degree, in the code of conduct recently released by the AEA, but also in the set of candidates (and their corresponding statements) standing up for vote in the upcoming elections on the AEA council. We will see whether this move will eventually contribute to create a more inclusive atmosphere in the profession as a whole.

© public domain

Table of contents