Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Letter To The Editor

Mike Cushman, the secretary of the London School of Economics University and Colleges Union (LSE UCU) writes to the Guardian:
"Philip Inman (Scene of the crime, G2, 18 February) describes the complicity of economics academics in the crash. They were responsible for providing an intellectual gloss for reckless and maybe criminal behaviour. ...They circulated their legitimising patina in the house journals of their club: the leading economics journals beloved of the US and UK business schools.

These journals, a key part of the conspiracy, continue to cast their shadow. It is almost impossible for economists to get employed or promoted in leading economics and management departments like LSE without publishing in these "A-grade" journals. ...It is the same self-referential circulation of authority that underpinned the collateralised debt obligations and other key instruments of the credit bubble. Essential research income is allocated through the Research Excellence Framework by reference to success in those same publications and adjudicated by those who edit and publish in those journals.

Scholars who will not act as shills for the banks and reinforce the Panglossian orthodoxies, and instead promote critical analyses, are rarely welcome in these journals and thus increasingly not welcome in universities... The REF (Research Exalting Finance) is a dangerous, flawed mechanism, at least in economics and management: an ideological straitjacket disguised as a fair and unbiased assessment." -- Mike Cushman
Mr. Cushman's claims are backed up by academic research on the history and sociology of economics. If I recall correctly, Geoffrey M. Hodgson and Harry Rothman1, for example, demonstrate the self-referential and closed nature of the supposedly "leading" journals in economics.Frederick Lee2 adds to the documentation of the unwillingness of mainstream economists to cite non-mainstream economists with empirically validated analyses of the British Research Excellence Framework (REF). In my reading of Lee, the REF is leading to less excellence in British economics, at least if your measure is an ability to understand actually existing capitalist economies.

1 Geoffrey M. Hodgson and Harry Rothman. "The Editors and Authors of Economics Journals: A Case of Institutional Oligopoly?". Economic Journal, V. 109, Iss. 453 (Feb. 1999): pp. 165-186.

2 Frederic Lee. A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the Mainstream in the Twentieth Century.


Eubulides said...

The self-referential circuit of authority is common in medical and legal journals as well; the checks against errors are malpractice regulations as outsiders don't have the same level of expertise. Witness the whole mess regarding vaccinations where it was outsiders who had the potential to inflict enormous harms if their views prevailed.

So what would malpractice policies look like for the economics profession given the easy availability of metaethical error theory to stop any code of ethics policy from having any teeth whatsoever?

Robert Vienneau said...

I think having an explicit code of ethics helps focus discussion. Apparently in the U.S., the judicial code of conduct does not apply to Supreme Court justices. But asking whether Clarence Thomas has violated it is a more straightforward question than asking just whether he has behaved unethically. The AEA strikes me as being weird in not having a code of ethics.

I thought this article on INET in the Economist interesting. The author recognizes mainstream economists have no interest in competing fairly. I don't know if this is because he recognizes the peculiar nature of economics, where most orthodox teaching was discredited decades ago, or a general acceptance of some recent trends in the sociology of science.