Heterodox Economics Newsletter

Issue 230 May 14, 2018 web pdf Heterodox Economics Directory

Some weeks ago, the AEA has finished its discussion on a 'code of professional conduct' for economists and published a final version on its website (see here). I think it is fair to say that the outcome is ambitious and raises new challenges and questions for economists.

For one, the code is in favor of a "disinterested assessment of ideas" and the "acknowledgement of limits of expertise". These criteria are noteworthy as they emphasize intellectual versatility and openness as well as modesty, concerns that economists are not really famous for. It is, for instance, easy to show that mainstream researchers typically neglect heterodox contributions or that the top 5 journals enjoy an exceptional status in economics, which imposes additonal constraints on the diversity of ideas and approaches represented in economics (see here and here). Also, in supposedly innocent empirical works the role of conceptual priors in assesing one's measurement - what philosophers would call the "theory-loadenness" of observation - is often underestimated in its impact. Typical examples in economics are the tendency to ask what kind of incentives or preferences could drive some behavior (thereby presupposing utility maximization) or the often found practice to equate the marginal contribution of some factor with its relative share in income (thereby presupposing marginal productivity theory; see also here).

For another, the AEA's code also encourages "equal opportunity and fair treatment for all economists, regardless of age, sex, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, health condition, marital status, parental status, genetic information, political affiliation, professional status, or personal connections" and, hence, covers a broad territory of possible reasons for discrimination. Against this backdrop, it would be great to see the code inspiring new research agendas, e.g. on whether being a women or member of a minority-group has a measurable impact on citations received or other measures of scientific visibility (see here or here for related examples).

In sum, I think the code of conduct is a noteworthy initiative by the AEA to increase the standards of the economic conversation and it remains to be seen whether this initiative has any lasting effects on our disciplinary standards.

All the best,

Jakob

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