Dissident Economics and Thought Control
By Arnold Kling
But after three decades of questioning whether the world can continue to support our consumption habits, Rees has had trouble convincing his colleagues in economics that their economic model needs an overhaul.
Maybe after three decades of the world increasing its supposedly unsustainable consumption habits, Rees should try opening his mind.
Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.
If you are not as revered as you want to be in the economics profession, it’s not because “they” are out to stifle your point of view. I think that the reasons are:
1. People mostly compare themselves to those who are revered excessively, not to those who are revered insufficiently. If you’re at Michigan, you think you belong at Harvard. If you’re at Harvard, you think you should have a prestigious chair. If you have a prestigious chair, you think you should have a Nobel Prize.
This happens in ordinary office workplaces as well. The way to make yourself really miserable is to compare your salary to that of the most overpaid, incompetent peer or superior. The way to make yourself feel really good is to compare your salary to others at the company who are even more undervalued than you are. 99% of people opt to make themselves miserable rather than feel good.
2. The number of tenured places at top graduate schools is very small relative to the number of really smart, hard-working academic economists. Even if you, too, are smart and hard working, the statistical odds are against your landing a job at a top-ten department.
3. There is an advantage, particularly when you are younger, of sticking with topics and methods that are fashionable at the moment. I think it’s easier to make your reputation mainstream, and then go heterodox, than the other way around.
4. As I’ve said before, I think that the profession is badly inbred. If you’re on the faculty at MIT or Harvard or Chicago, and every year for five years you attract 2 of the top 5 graduate students to work under you, then in thirty years you will be a dominant figure in the profession. I saw Rudi Dornbusch do that when I was at MIT. If he had not died young, he would be in an unchallenged position within international macro. My guess is that some people would say that he occupies such a position posthumously.
If you want to have a major professional impact, the real scarce resource is top-notch graduate students to extend your work. Unless somebody comes along and redistributes star graduate students in a way that benefits heterodox professors, alternative approaches to economics are going to face an uphill battle. Get over it.