Do academic economists really not talk about economic factors when they talk about academic jobs in economics?

Tyler Cowen writes:

When it comes to the job market in academia, most economists have few hesitations about blaming many of the jobless for their fate and applying extreme meritocratic views. “He spent seven years finishing.” “Her specification was not robust.” “He self-destructed in the interview.” Or, believe it or not, “We don’t even look at people from that school. . . . Nonetheless there is clearly a significant cyclical component to academic unemployment, based largely on state government budgets for higher education; as of a few years ago, seventy-eight percent of students were in the state sector. If your department doesn’t have a slot, you probably can’t hire anybody . . . That cyclical component accounts for a lot of the short-run variation in hiring, but if you’re estimating the response to a demand shock, longer-term supply trends matter too and often they matter a great deal. . . .

I’m surprised by Cowen’s implicit claim that economists don’t think about cyclical issues in academic hiring. Actually I think I must be missing something. Cyclical issues are obvious and huge, and everybody I know talks about these economic factors all the time when it comes to hiring. Also other related factors such as the availability of nonacademic jobs. Could it really be that academic economists don’t talk about these things as they apply to their own field? I can’t believe it. There must be something else Cowen is trying to say here but I’m not following.

P.S. I made the mistake of reading the comments on this one. Sometimes the Marginal Revolution comment threads are great but this one got captured by the crazies. There’s a lot of anger out there! In all seriousness, I wonder if blog commenters are more angry during a recession. There’s a research topic for you!

4 Responses to Do academic economists really not talk about economic factors when they talk about academic jobs in economics?

  1. MikeM July 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Andrew, one of my favorite quotes is from “Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart,” by Gerd Gigerenzer et al:

    One philosopher was struggling to decide whether to stay at Columbia University or to accept a job offer from a rival university. The other advised him: “Just maximize your expected utility—you always write about doing this.” Exasperated, the first philosopher responded: “Come on, this is serious.”

  2. Tyler Cowen July 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    I’m not at all denying they talk about cyclical factors, only that when it comes to the econ job market they clearly worry about both sides of the market, yet the current Keynesians are not so pluralistic for all of their analyses…

  3. chrismealy July 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I’m surprised anybody takes a glorified gas lobbying that seriously.

  4. Mike July 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    Tyler, I’m not sure I get your point. It seems to me that Keynesians argue that the level of unemployment/output is determined, in the short to medium term, by demand factors. That says nothing about the distribution of unemployment across individuals, which is what most of your examples were. If you react to someone’s failure to get a job by saying “she messed up the talk,” that doesn’t preclude the argument that, if there were more jobs, she would have had a higher probability of finding a job. A structural unemployment argument (presumably the supply side you are thinking of) would be that PhD programs are producing too many macroeconomists relative to demand or something like that, right?

    You might have a point if you pointed to Keynesian economists who suggest that we are over-producing econ PhDs and therefore we need to reduce the number of degrees granted, but as far as I can tell, econ is one of the few disciplines where not too many people make that argument.