Academia

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

Andrew Gelman Jul 2 '11

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!