Heterodox Economics Newsletter

Issue 210 March 06, 2017 web pdf Heterodox Economics Directory

While many standard economists would argue that an increase in the intensity of competition brings forth superior social outcomes, only few of them have noted that their own field - academic economics - exhibits tendencies running contrary to this claim. While it has not gone unnoticed that the conjoined forces of 'publish or perish' and a highly stratified academic culture in economics continuously intensify competitive pressures (an issue also addressed in my last editorial), the effects of this increase in competitive pressure have only rarely been studied systemically.

Luckily, a fine paper by Sarah Necker addresses this shortcoming and provides a first and preliminary glimpse on the coping strategies developed in academic economics. Here is a selective quote summarizing her findings:

"About one fifth admits to having refrained from citing others’ work that contradicted the own analysis [...]. Even more admit to questionable practices of data analysis (32–38%), e.g., the 'selective presentation of findings so that they confirm one’s argument.' Having complied with suggestions from referees despite having thought that they were wrong is reported by 39% (CI: 34–44%). Even 59% (CI: 55–64%) report that they have at least once cited strategically to increase the prospect of publishing their work. According to their responses, 6.3% of the participants have never engaged in a practice rejected by at least a majority of peers."

These ethical deficiencies stand in stark contrast to the increasing technical sophisticatedness in empirical economics, especially because the latter might actually be exploited to achieve 'publishability' (an issue also touched upon in past editorials, e.g. here and here). And indeed, past heterodox research has often been concerned with the social embeddedness of economic activities and the 'negative externalities' associated with all-too competitive social settings. Just to quote the words of classic:

"We may then come to the conclusion that while the element of competition can play a useful and constructive part in some departments of our lives, its unrestricting acceptance as the basic driving force will foster undesirable qualities like greed, fraud, ruthlessness, at the cost of truthfulness, readiness to help and solidarity.“ (Rothschild, K.W., 1954, The Wastes of Competition, 311)

Interestingly, such a perspective can also be substantiated with reference to more recent research in behavioral economics (see here or here or this book). Although these contributions have not (yet?) led academic economics back to the classic question on the broader social ramifications of economic developments, they allow for flexible framing of the underlying argument making it more easily digestible for our colleagues of a more traditional orientation ;-)

All the best,

Jakob

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