We’re doing it again, folks! Let’s do this year’s list in the format of “fake awards that I just made up”.Continue reading
Friend Machine – Nation of Language
From the (really good) album Introduction, Presence.
Killing EJMR, redux
Once again economics Twitter is being forced to confront the racist, misogynistic, and abusive website called Economics Job Market Rumors. This time the catalyst is abuse directed towards graduate students who have been discussing how to advocate for anti-racist changes in their home institution. This is taking place in the context of anti-racist protests and the Black Lives Matter movement across the U.S. and the world, and the associated discussions of the economics of racism and racism within economics.
Three years ago I wrote about killing EJMR in the context of its misogyny, where it is a symptom of toxic attitudes in the profession at large.Now we are talking about its racism, where EJMR is a symptom once again. Two resources to begin to learn more about the broader context of racism within the profession is William Spriggs’s open letter to economists and Lisa Cook’s work on how the economics profession excludes Black women. I argued before that, in addition to taking positive steps to enhance diversity in our ranks, we could take concrete steps to reduce the demand for EJMR by better supporting students. I want to continue to make that argument here.
I’m reluctant to give oxygen to the dumpster fire that is EMJR. I want to make quite clear that I think that to the extent possible we should never, ever visit the site. Clicks and traffic are the currency of the internet, and we should not spend ours there. I realize that sometimes it is unavoidable—when targeted abuse is being perpetrated, for example, we may have to learn what is being done in order to combat it and protect its victims. But I felt like I wanted to write about it once more to continue to advocate for changes in our behavior and mindset as economists that might contribute to undermining the site.
When we as economists find ourselves in situations where we have power or privilege—because of our professional role, our status in the profession or our institutions, our appearance to the world—we can try to use our power or privilege in a positive way. I want to suggest a few ways in which I think we might be able to, slowly but surely, diminish the influence of EJMR and the role it plays for graduate students by taking concrete actions.
- Intervene and speak up in a constructive way when an economist speaks or acts in an explicitly or implicitly racist and sexist way.
When we witness discrimination, harassment, or marginalization, we should try to say something to try to contribute to a change in attitude or behavior. I think this is important because it shows the person who has displayed implicit or explicit bias that you notice, you care, and you would prefer them to behave differently in the future. Even small acknowledgements could make a big cumulative difference, particularly if you belong to a common in-group with the person whose words or actions were offensive or damaging.
It can be exhausting or humiliating to have to engage with racist or sexist attitudes in a respectful way. But we have to do so, particularly because members of the groups being targeted don’t have a choice. They have to navigate the dilemma of speaking up or staying silent in the face of those attitudes every time they hear them.
2. Understand and engage with the fears and insecurities of non-“superstar” graduate students and job market candidates.
If we are in contact with graduate students in our home institutions or at conferences and so on, we must talk to and engage with all grad students. We must not neglect those who are not perceived to be on a trajectory to a top department, top publications, and positions of power.
This is important because economics is a rigidly hierarchical profession and doctoral programs tend to inherently valorize the narrative of academic superstardom. It can be discouraging and scary to be a graduate student in general, but it can be worse for those who are either implicitly or explicitly told by their home department that they are lesser in the eyes of those who should be their mentors and teachers. It is not enough that departments have some faculty who are “nice” to grad students—when there are some faculty members who treat graduate students as the embodiment of their research and not as people, it becomes clear to students that this is a risk that they may face in the profession.
3. In job searches and in hiring, be as transparent as possible with candidates at every step of the process.
This is important because the job market for graduate students is intimidating and stressful but also opaque. An alleged reason for EJMR to exist is to provide scraps of unverified information to anxious students as they navigate a process that, unfortunately, is cruelly deterministic of their professional future.
We have to do this even when it makes our lives as recruiters more difficult or more inconvenient. I understand why we don’t want to tell candidates that interview offers have all been made or that a job offer has gone out to a particular candidate. But it is a generous and kind act to do so, and it undermines a key role that EJMR plays for grad students, even those students who do not at all subscribe to the abusive attitudes and behaviors that flow from the site. We’ve seen a rise in the use of hashtags like #EconJobMarket to try to increase the flow of public information in the last few years, and I think that kind of thing is a nice way to try to reduce demand for EJMR at the margin.
4. Learn, understand, and internalize the truth that there are many ways to be a good, successful, fulfilled economist.
There are many paths to a successful career as an economist—not just becoming a “top academic researcher” with “top publications” at a “top department”. This is a more abstract cultural issue, but I think it’s important that each of us take steps to “deprogram” ourselves from this infectious idea.
That means taking the time to educate ourselves about career paths, research topics and methods, job types, journals, and pedagogy that are outside the area of our own personal experience. I confess that I learned this one the hard way, though years of my personal career journey and choices. Economists who are primarily teachers, who write about less popular topics, who publish in different journals than you or not at all, who work outside academia, who have chosen a different work-life balance, or who have prioritized different things in their life from you are not worse than you. Luckily, this can be as simple as learning about people who are in different positions in the profession and about their experiences and journeys. There are many economists in the world doing work, living their lives, and traveling their careers. We must not only recognize and celebrate those who we perceive as “successful” according to our own personal measures.
In summary: whenever we can, let’s support members of the economics community in situations where they are less powerful. Our active learning, generosity, and intervention can help us to lift each other up, and wouldn’t that be a great thing?
Can’t Let Go, Juno – Kishi Bashi
So Much It Hurts – Niki & the Dove
From the album “Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now”.
Genius / madness
I’m happy to report that my research note “Investment in ideas when genius and madness look alike” (pdf) was published yesterday in Economics Bulletin. The paper is about what happens when it’s hard to tell a really creative and ingenious idea apart from a totally ridiculous and terrible idea. (This makes the paper both reflexively immune to criticism and reflexively immune to praise. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
What I find is that you don’t need a complicated model of asymmetric information to generate the kind of fat-tailed, bimodal returns to innovation that you see in data. All it takes is that extreme ideas look a little bit like genius and a little bit like madness. Some of the things that are predicted by the model are rational overinvestment in the very worst ideas, rational underinvestment in the very best ideas, abnormally high variation in IPO returns for firms with novel technology, and unfunded “missing ideas” that are much better than some of the truly terrible ideas that receive investment capital.
Economics Bulletin is an open access journal for short articles across all fields of economics. That means that this paper, like all others in the journal, is completely free and available to anyone. As always I wholeheartedly support anything that helps us move away from the unjustifiably expensive world of for-profit journals.
The General Welfare
Progressives are likely facing a long time in the wilderness when it comes to the Supreme Court. Beyond the anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-voter decisions already laid down over the past decade or so, we can anticipate a conservative majority for many years to come. But watching and waiting is no strategy at all. What can we do?
Six things I learned from writing trivia
For the past three and a half years I’ve been co-writer and host of a monthly trivia night. What better way to take a break from your day job of setting and grading questions than by… wait.
Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete the Kisses
Naïvely Dialectic Belief Formation
I have a new working paper up today on my writing page on dialectic belief formation. It’s a model of a person who forms beliefs based on a heuristic that takes a weighted average of the best and worst case explanations for observed data. The weights carry a penalty for the more unlikely explanation, captured in the model by a skepticism parameter.
I’m arguing that a person who is excessively credulous of far-fetched explanations looks a lot like the type of exploitable, behaviorally anomalous person we see in data across a few superficially different applications: non-Bayesian belief formation, subjective probability assessment, and political spin.
As an added bonus, I cite, among others, Stephen Colbert, the NPR Code Switch podcast, Hegel, and the Supreme Court!