Burn it down: economics failed us.
July 30, 2020 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Economics is a disgrace - "The indignities are astounding..." Claudia Sahm -- macromom -- a former Fed economist (with her own rule and automatic stabilizer) rips the economics priesthood a new one.[1,2]
The new woman economist at the [Federal Reserve] Board who was asked by the men colleagues at lunch if she 'satisfied' her husband. Her husband is an economist I know well. An officer sabotaged her work. She moved to another group. He stayed. I have talked with the woman and her husband several times. Broke my heart. Her tormentor is good friends with mine. I thought it was me. It was not me. It was them and they have not stopped. I told her she would get better. I did. No one told me that in 2011 when I broke. I was told that I was not the first woman he targeted. WTF? No one told me I could report him. WTF?? Both tormentors are senior officers at the Board, instrumental to monetary policy decisions. Neither said they were sorry.
posted by kliuless (47 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
I kind of expected this to be about how economics is valueless as a profession, rather than toxic for people who aren't white men.

The smartest guy I know (and I have to impress upon you, this is an astonishingly high bar) is a white male economist; he told me once he's still not convinced economics has any real value as a profession.
posted by Merus at 2:14 AM on July 30 [59 favorites]


I seem to recall reports that the basic principles of modern economics were invalidated by the 2008 crash. If so, how is economics as a discipline still a thing?
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:21 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]


Economics does not invest enough in its next generation. It beats them down. [...] I reviewed students from MIT to India to Stockholm to Santa Barbara and everywhere in between. All their papers were badly written. I gave extensive comments to every student and they did a super job revising their papers. I encouraged them. Here are some of their replies:

You are the first person who has read any part of my job market paper.
I finally understand my paper.
Our department does not teach us how to write.

After I saw the problems in the first papers, I wrote a blog post on writing for all job market candidates. It is my most read post by far. I was shocked. My advisor, Matthew Shapiro, taught me how to write research papers. Many advisors do not.


This is a really good point that goes even beyond the sexism and racism that she focuses on. It's also about socioeconomic/cultural diversity and neurodiversity. Doing well in school, particularly on assignments like papers, can often feel like an impenetrable goal for people who aren't already in tune with their graders' expectations. How do you learn to understand what those expectations are? How do you find out where your own papers aren't meeting the mark, or what a good paper looks like (and what makes it good)?

Sometimes (but not always) you'll have a writing center available to you, or take a writing class, but even then that's usually more useful for general composition skills and less for domain-specific writing or for writing in styles, forms, or conventions that go beyond the generic. The feedback you get on your assignments from your grader will usually be minimal, or point out a few things that still don't tell you what a good paper would actually look like and where the differences lie. You could go and talk with the grader, but that assumes a few things: that they'll be available; that they'll give you useful feedback; that you'll have the confidence to go and seek out that help without fear of being perceived as stupid or unworthy or wasting the grader's time. That last part is especially problematic for a lot of us, and especially for students who for sociocultural reasons don't feel entitled to "bother" a professor for personalized help.

Outside of STEM-type problem sets, most grading depends not just on understanding of the subject matter (which is taught) but on knowing how to write and think about the subject matter according to the conventions of the field (and according to the idiosyncratic standards of the grader). And that is typically not taught. So the students who start out with that knowledge - who are usually the beneficiaries of relatively high-quality education up to that point, which usually correlates to having grown up in privilege - get good grades, and the students who don't even know what they don't know get discouraging grades and are never shown how to improve. Whatever potential they have is invisible because they don't know how to express or develop it in a way that meets unexplained expectations.

Any effort at diversity aimed not just along lines of race and sex but along lines of economic privilege, educational background, and neurodiversity needs to emphasize and invest seriously in the idea that it's not enough just to recognize the people who have already learned to understand the unspoken standards by which they are evaluated. You need to first make those standards crystal-clear and accessible to everyone and then actively help people meet them.
posted by trig at 6:28 AM on July 30 [30 favorites]


The hot takes on the value of economics as a discipline seem a bit off topic in this thread.

Or maybe not -- from the first link:
Economics is a disgrace. The lack of diversity and inclusion degrades our knowledge and policy advice. We hurt economists from undergraduate classrooms to offices at the White House. We drive away talent; we mistreat those who stay; and we tolerate bad behavior.
So the culture of deferring to such authority figures as

The smartest guy I know (and I have to impress upon you, this is an astonishingly high bar) [who] is a white male economist

is arguably no small part of the problem on both fronts.
posted by Not A Thing at 6:33 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]


Just how dismal can it get?
posted by sammyo at 6:52 AM on July 30


Wow, I had no idea that economics was so toxic. I knew that there was really good research on gender bias in academic economics, but I assumed that was just true of most academic fields (the research shows unconscious bias, differing impacts of parental leave, etc.) and just happened to be studied in economics because the researchers themselves were economists. But the stories she recounts ... wow, that's toxic. I don't think other disciplines lack problems with systemic bias and lack of support for junior researchers, but it's not so blatent.

There are aspects of the article I don't understand: what is "The Board" that the author refers to? I searched, but couldn't seem to find the whole spelled out. Can anyone help?

I seem to recall reports that the basic principles of modern economics were invalidated by the 2008 crash. If so, how is economics as a discipline still a thing?

No, the crash revealed problems with just one type of economics. As a field of study, "economics" just means the study of how economies work. It's not been debunked any more than astronomy was dead as a field after heliocentric models replaced the geocentric models. In fact, most of what I've heard (as an outsider, but trained in a related field - socioeconomic history) is that really 2008 gave more support to Keynesian economics, which aren't even that different from the Chicago school and similar orthodoxies. The failure of one model should lead, in any decent social science, to looking for a new model that works better. (Favourite thing I learned from a social scientist: no model is correct. Some are just less wrong aka better bad representations of reality).

(Personally, I'm a Marxist - I mean, not that I think we should have communism, but that one of the most important things that should be studied is the relationship of labour, capital and the means of production - and preferably through the study of access to livestock in pre-modern Europe, because household inventories are fun to play with.)
posted by jb at 7:12 AM on July 30 [12 favorites]


The smartest guy I know (and I have to impress upon you, this is an astonishingly high bar) [who] is a white male economist

The smartest person I know (also a high bar) is a barista who has become a (unemployed) paralegal. (He really should be a lawyer, but couldn't afford law school). (BTW: if anyone knows of anyone who needs a paralegal in Toronto, I know a brilliant candidate.)
posted by jb at 7:14 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Economics is All fields dominated by people with PhDs are a disgrace.
The problems described in OP's links seem to be endemic to academia and those parts of industry that require advanced post-secondary education. Or rather they seem to be endemic, period1. I suppose though, that it's especially galling to earn that most meritous of meritocratitc badges, the Ph.D., and still be subject to this kind of crap.

Economics might be particularly bad because of its primary role in society, which is namely not the furtherance of human understanding but rather as Galbraith put it "the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." Galbraith mistakenly attributed this motivation to conservative economists, but by that measure we are (almost) all conservatives now. And the people on whose behalf the search is conducted set the tone for their hirelings' behavior.

1I say "seem" because as a cis straight white guy I can observe the effects only indirectly... people who commit the kind of assholery described in the links don't do such things in front of me.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 7:15 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


what is "The Board" that the author refers to. I searched, but couldn't seem to find the whole spelled out. Can anyone help?

The Federal Reserve Board, I assume.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:18 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


jb - a reasonable response. Thank you.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:25 AM on July 30


Most prominent economists strike me as simply the new courtiers to the powerful. Their job is to assure the wealthy and powerful that they are virtuous and deserving of their wealth and power, but wrapped in such impenetrable technical and academic jargon as to make it seem objectively true, or at least logically unassailable.
posted by hwestiii at 8:10 AM on July 30 [13 favorites]


>going on beneath the water

MONIAC was the high-point of economics, it's been all downhill since.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:14 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


>new courtiers to the powerful

Nothing new about it!

(Dr Gaffney sadly passed in his 90s last week.)
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:19 AM on July 30


My two undergrad econ courses were basically, "This is one of the models that is fundamental to economics. It is the guiding principle upon which economics is based. Somehow, it did not predict *list of things like major market crashes*. How can this be? The world may never know."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:31 AM on July 30 [5 favorites]


Economics is more like Freudian psychoanalysis - it tries to explain something that needs explanation through victim blaming.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:33 AM on July 30 [7 favorites]


At the risk of a derail, there was another economics thread a while back that made some points that are probably worth checking out if this is on your mind
posted by cirgue at 8:51 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]


I'm a non-white, cis, straight, male graduate student at a top program. I've been incredibly privileged to have advisors and classmates who are almost uniformly kind, generous, and driven by a genuinely pro-social mission to figure out how the world works and make it better. At the same time, I've also come to see the the field is filled with large pockets of incredibly toxic, hierarchical, elitist, culture that hold back and hurt both the search for social-scientific knowledge and the social scientists who pursue it.

That is to say that while the discipline of economics absolutely needs reform, and absolutely needs the reckoning that is hopefully only just beginning, there are many many young scholars from diverse backgrounds and outlooks doing genuinely ground-breaking work (some of whom I've talked about before). It would be a pity to condemn the entire discipline instead of amplifying and supporting those voices wherever we can.
posted by rishabguha at 8:55 AM on July 30 [35 favorites]


Physics envy comes to mind - the old urge in economics to make everything as "logical" and mathematical as possible in order to make the field a respectable science. Every discipline which prides itself on its logic - philosophy, economics, mathematics, physics, computer science - seems to have an extra dose of assholery in general and sexist+racist assholery in particular.

I'm having trouble finding the reference right now, but I remember reading about a series of tests on undergraduates to see, IIRC, which police chief they would pick from fictional examples. One group had to choose between a woman with a strong academic resume and a man with strong street experience. The other group was flipped; they had to choose between a man with a strong academic resume and a woman with strong street experience. There was a correlation between how "logical" someone rated themselves and how likely they were to pick the man no matter what experience the man was presented with. They were very good at logically working back from their prejudice to construct a logical argument as to why street experience or academic experience - whatever experience the man happened to have - was the best.

I'm not sure if that study has been replicated, but it surely matches my experience. The more "logical" someone thinks they are, the more likely they are to fail to examine their prejudices. It shouldn't be that way - it's a highly illogical thing to do! - but the world does seem to be that way. If this filters up to the heights of the professions of economics, with lots of people proud of how smart and rigorously logical they are, I wonder, as the author points out, how many unexamined prejudices are holding the field back. How many top papers are brilliantly logical expositions of conclusions arising from a limited set of prejudices? How much truth is economics missing out on because the most "logical" people are in charge?

For the past decade my leisure reading has mostly been biology papers. The characteristic phrase in those is "which may suggest". After months and years of painstaking biochemical and statistical analysis, be humble enough to recognize that organisms are incredibly complex and "which may suggest" is the strongest statement you can honestly make. Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to read some economics papers about the "middle income trap", and it was total whiplash. Bold, definite statements made on the basis of a couple of questionable data points. Completely opposed statements made in different papers with nothing to back them up other than the author's bold confidence in their own correctness. No "which may suggest" to be seen anywhere. Surely economies aren't complex enough to require humility on the part of the people studying them. I am smart, I am logical, therefore I am right.
posted by clawsoon at 9:01 AM on July 30 [36 favorites]


How is this surprising, it's an old school suit and tie meet at 'the club' (that finally allowed unescorted women in all the rooms last year, well maybe not the private back bar) crowd... but...

but it does work in some ways, supply&demand is a useful concept, the Nash equilibrium is mathematically sound and used effectively. There would likely be many more economies like Zimbabwe where a loaf of bread cost a cool billion dollars in the morning and 50B in the afternoon. The understanding of the basics of whats possible probably kept the world out of a full on depression in 2008, (oh goodness what poor ol' Joe is going to have to clean up, feels for that dude).

As fun as it is to be scathing about predictions, we can only make good guesses about the weather and are regularly surprised, and add the active attempts by the players being studied, the chance of economics being accurate in any instance is way worse than the direction of hurricanes. But there is science there.
posted by sammyo at 9:04 AM on July 30


Oh for crying out loud, economics is a legitimate and important field of study. If we dismiss it because most economic models fail to accurately explain how economies populated by actual human beings function, we'll have to dismiss most of the social sciences.

And is anyone truly surprised to learn that a field that has been historically dominated by men can be a toxic environment for women?

I am not excusing sexist/misogynist behavior—always, always, always call it out, loudly and publicly. Just don't assume the behavior of bad actors in the field means the subject is not worthy of study. See also: feminist economics.
posted by she's not there at 9:07 AM on July 30 [25 favorites]


Economics is a field worth studying with more humility, by more humble people.
posted by clawsoon at 9:16 AM on July 30 [14 favorites]


Sahm's post is making waves -- Powell got asked about it in his post-FOMC press conference yesterday. According to her twitter, one of the named figures (Bill Dudley) reached out to apologize, while another (Lones Smith) has apparently doubled down. She also mentioned she sent this to Bernanke and Yellen (in their capacities as American Econ Association officers) in its unredacted form.

Also I'm sorry that many of you had lousy instructors in the one or two econ classes you took as undergraduates. Please understand that that's not what Sahm's talking about, for the most part and also that because your undergraduate instructors didn't do a good job doesn't mean that the field is entirely worthless. It's a really frustrating thing every single time economics comes up on the Blue one of these posts comes up that people make the same tired criticisms of the entire field of economics based on what seems like a shallow impression of what the field actually studies or how it did, in fact, react intellectually to the 2008 crisis.

Those who are pointing out that this is endemic to academia, yes, absolutely. Econ is arguably worse because it's a male-dominated field, and also intensely hierarchical. The problem also has what's arguably a wider scope because of the fact that economists play such a large role in policy analysis, so that the issues with male-dominated academic fields are being replicated in public policy institutions. The people who are doing the bread and butter policy analysis, forecasting, and hashing out the rules -- apart from lawyers -- are PhD economists at the Federal Reserve (the largest employer of macroeconomists in the world), the Treasury, Office of Management and Budget, Securities and Exchange Commission, FDIC -- and to the extent that these people are trained in toxic environments by toxic people, that is a concern for public policy.
posted by dismas at 9:25 AM on July 30 [24 favorites]


I don't think it is off the table to condemn an entire discipline if it is fundamentally asking the wrong questions. And since actually existing economics has a serious tendency to do this, an appeal of the sort well some economists are studying prosocial and benevolent problems is missing the forest for the trees (as Einstein pointed out). And any economist who lays the meta-assertion that they know better what actual modern economics is really about... is doing the kind of toxic privileged defensive move we're talking about here. The correct position is to simply listen and try to learn something here.
posted by polymodus at 9:34 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


polymodus: I don't think it is off the table to condemn an entire discipline if it is fundamentally asking the wrong questions.

The link that rishabguha posted is really, really worth reading before making blanket statements about economics as a discipline. (Applies to my own comments, too.)
posted by clawsoon at 9:43 AM on July 30 [7 favorites]


Economics does not invest enough in its next generation. It beats them down.

One one my early days a graduate student in psychology I rode the elevators with a couple of psychology professors from a different research area one of whom was the dept chair. They didn't recognize me and must have assumed I was just another undergraduate student in the college so they didn't bother to regulate their conversation.

They were casually discussing strategies for how to make the graduate students miserable in order to pressure them to complete on time or early.
posted by srboisvert at 9:44 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


rishabguha: At the same time, I've also come to see the the field is filled with large pockets of incredibly toxic, hierarchical, elitist, culture that hold back and hurt both the search for social-scientific knowledge and the social scientists who pursue it.

For those in the profession: Is macro worse than micro for sexism and racism, or are they similar, both having good work being done by good people alongside toxic, elitist pockets especially at the top?
posted by clawsoon at 9:48 AM on July 30


For those in the profession: Is macro worse than micro for sexism and racism, or are they similar, both having good work being done by good people alongside toxic, elitist pockets especially at the top?

I honestly don't know enough to speak with certainty. In terms of intellectual content, micro has definitely gone further in terms of studying the effects of racial / gender discrimination in general, and tends to attract people who are willing to put empirics ahead of old-school Chicago-style theory (which purely IMO tends to embed all sorts of politically-freighted assumptions in the name of tractable modeling). That said, there have certainly been scandals among applied microeconomists---Roland Fryer comes to mind. And, of course, while there is probably a correlation between the personal behavior of economists and their professional outlook, the correlation is nowhere close to perfect.

The biggest problem the field is facing, which is probably similar to problems many other fields are facing, is how to move beyond the 'whisper network' of identifying missing stairs in the profession to a world where people actually feel empowered to report abuse and see justice done. Until we've reached that world it's going to be very very difficult for anyone to speak with certainty about conditions outside of their tiny subfield.

The AEA climate survey was linked to in Sahm's piece, and is worth taking a look at both as hard data on how toxic many people within the field think the culture is, and as (hopefully!) a sign that things are starting to point in the direction of change.
posted by rishabguha at 10:01 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]


The problem also has what's arguably a wider scope because of the fact that economists play such a large role in policy analysis, so that the issues with male-dominated academic fields are being replicated in public policy institutions.

It's not just a gender issue. One of my other related fields - agricultural history / agrarian studies - is relatively male-dominated (maybe 60 or 70% male?), and it doesn't have that level of toxicity (neither does social history, but that's more 50-50). Of course, the kind of people who think that agricultural history is cool are also the kind of people who pore through account books for years on end to figure out what a labourer was paid during harvest. As clawsoon notes, maybe it's about humility as well: this is totally anecdata, but I've had the chance to meet a superstar scholar of agrarian issues, and he was really approachable and humble and open to learning from his students. But then again, he spent years speaking with and learning from peasants and other working-class people, and I can't imagine anyone who thought they already had the answers would do so. Just having an interest in how lower-class people live and think already means you need to go in humbly, ready to listen.

I've always wondered about whether the image of Economics itself perpetuates problems. I've always had interests which dance around the field of Economics (social mobility, class, later in macro economic development), but I never set foot in an economics classroom because I grew up on welfare and support high government spending - and at age 21, I "knew" that economists hated poor people and government spending. (I didn't know that, of course. because it's not true, but that's what I thought based on the Reaganomics I heard on the news growing up). With that kind of reputation, how many people with life experiences that contradict conservative economics just don't go anywhere near it? To what extent does the "Econ 101" reputation attract people who are already inclined to believe what they think it teaches?

I regret not taking economics - I don't think I have the math interests to have been an economist, but I think it would have been really valuable to me. And, given that I went to a lefty university (well, lefty for a huge Canadian institution), maybe our economics department was doing interesting heterodox economics? They had enough Marxists in the History department, they must have had a couple in Economics ;)
posted by jb at 10:54 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


kliuless: "with her own rule"

She may need to get a rule that goes up to eleven for the recession it now needs to predict!
posted by chavenet at 11:02 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered about whether the image of Economics itself perpetuates problems. I've always had interests which dance around the field of Economics (social mobility, class, later in macro economic development), but I never set foot in an economics classroom because I grew up on welfare and support high government spending - and at age 21, I "knew" that economists hated poor people and government spending. (I didn't know that, of course. because it's not true, but that's what I thought based on the Reaganomics I heard on the news growing up). With that kind of reputation, how many people with life experiences that contradict conservative economics just don't go anywhere near it? To what extent does the "Econ 101" reputation attract people who are already inclined to believe what they think it teaches?

I think this is absolutely right. At a talk about gender representation in economics, Claudia Goldin, who has studied gender imbalance in the pipeline into economics, and she said that many students report being turned off of economics because they see it as the major for would-be finance bros. Interventions that highlight other applications of economics, especially on cutting-edge social issues, seem to be able to widen the pipeline. One example of an effort to do this is Raj Chetty's attempt to create an alternate introductory economics course at Harvard, highlighting the empirical and social aspects of economic research.
posted by rishabguha at 11:25 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]


Oh for crying out loud, economics is a legitimate and important field of study. If we dismiss it because most economic models fail to accurately explain how economies populated by actual human beings function, we'll have to dismiss most of the social sciences.

I wouldn't say most of them, just the ones that purport to be able to predict individual behaviors based on an overly-reductive set of axioms that mostly fail to grasp that the systems they're examining grow geometrically more complicated as the number of subjects in increases. Like Salvor Hardin. Or most modern economic theory.
posted by Mayor West at 11:51 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I think the main problem with (modern) economics is the philosophical/political assumption that trade is, in and of itself and for no other reason, Good, and anything that impedes trade is Bad.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:05 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I "knew" that economists hated poor people and government spending. (I didn't know that, of course. because it's not true, but that's what I thought based on the Reaganomics I heard on the news growing up).

Are you sure it's not true, at least to 'economics' as it pertains to US federal policy choices? Subject titles from the blog post:
*****************
(Economic) Elites punch down and attack those with opinions different than theirs
Economists discourage economists from under-represented groups
Economics promotes elitism over science
Economists hurt people outside economics with bad policy advice
and the stated fact:
Do you know how many Black economists work at the Fed? One out of 406.
*****************
The titles are bad, but the comments inside each are worse.

Any other group that had professional bonafides like that we would rightfully request it be disbanded and redesigned.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:12 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


I liked economics better before it sold out, when it was called political economy.
posted by thedamnbees at 12:18 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]


I think the main problem with (modern) economics is the philosophical/political assumption that trade is, in and of itself and for no other reason, Good, and anything that impedes trade is Bad.

The bigger problem is that people confuse "the market" for "the economy" and "political economic advisors" for "economists.

Economics at its core studies supply, demand, labor, and utility. But a lot of that may happen outside of the market and not get counted.

If you and I each cook our own meals and watch our own kids, there's no "economic activity" measured, even though there's labor and utility being expended and produced.

If I watch your kids in exchange for you cooking the meals, there's economic activity in the form of barter, but it's not likely counted toward the GDP.

If I run a daycare and charge money to watch people's kids, and then spend that money on someone to cook my meals, boom, suddenly it's a part of the economy!

"Economics" has ways of describing and counting all of these scenarios. But Wall Street only cares about the 3rd.

This is a pet peeve of mine, because I have an economics degree. It'd be like having a physics degree and people thinking physics was worthless because a bunch of idiots were assuming spherical frictionless cows for real world engineering problems.
posted by explosion at 12:47 PM on July 30 [15 favorites]


>not likely counted toward the GDP

8% of the measured-economy is homeowners housing themselves...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:15 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


An excellent documentary by Ch arles Ferguson on some of the background to the Great Financial Crisis called Inside Job had a few Important economists being discomfited by impertinent questioning which called into question their integrity or at least smarts.

While I think it is a mistake to denigrate an entire field of inquiry just because some of the kings without clothes manage to reach positions of considerable power and influence it is still great to see the powerful discomfited if only temporarily.
posted by Pembquist at 4:27 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


There's a wonderful book published in 1988 called If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring, a political economist and former New Zealand Member of Parliament. From a 2013 article:
Twenty-five years after she directed a broadside at the global economic order for ignoring the unpaid work women do, Marilyn Waring said she’s still waiting.

Her 1988 book “If Women Counted” persuaded the United Nations to redefine gross domestic product, inspired new accounting methods in dozens of countries and became the founding document of the discipline of feminist economics.
From 2014: Feminist Classics/Many Voices: Marilyn Waring. If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics
What struck me most when I first read Marilyn Waring's If Women Counted was the passion that a committed scholar can bring to the driest of subjects: statistics. The second was that Waring, who is a political economist and former New Zealand Member of Parliament, made the politics of measurement visible for feminist scholars and activists. Waring was scathing about the fact that neither unpaid work (mainly done by women in the home) nor natural inputs from the environment were given value in current measurements of economic and productive activity. She was particularly critical of the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSNA) which formalized the practice of governments in this respect: “When you are seeking out the most vicious tools of colonization, those that can obliterate a culture and a nation, a tribe or a people's value system, then rank the UNSNA among those tools”. Her aim was to initiate a campaign to persuade policy makers that the failure to count unpaid work both lay at the roots of gender inequality and caused serious flaws in the way economic trends were evaluated. She has continued to speak out on this issue.
posted by Lexica at 4:35 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Sorry, this is responding very late to comments early in the thread, but I'm belatedly adding a note here -- in a thread specifically about sexism in economics, please don't divert the topic toward broad general "economics sucks" comments. Let the thread be about the specific issue it's about. See the Community Guidelines for a bit more.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:34 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]


The first article explicitly discusses race, class, and the "culture" of academic economics in addition to gender, and explicitly generalizes to a broad, detailed, and meaningful critique of the discipline as a whole. I would not characterize the essay as "specifically about sexism in economics" in the sense of "only," although that is perhaps the central pillar, and an assessment of the entire discipline as a sociologically coherent cultural community seems quite germane to the essay. It may not make for a good discussion here, but that breadth of critique is in fact what the essay is about.
posted by chortly at 9:06 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Until 2019, only one woman had won the Nobel Prize in Economics. She was discouraged from studying economics, and in fact was rejected from a Ph.D. program in economics (officially because she wasn't taught trigonometry in high school, as far as I can tell).

So, the first and until lately only woman with an economics Nobel was officially a political scientist, not an economist.
posted by amtho at 9:27 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]


And Elinor Ostrom studied common land use! That was a major part of my research, as well. It's not exactly Chicago school.
posted by jb at 10:07 PM on July 30


The new slate for the American Economic Association leadership has 8 people; one is a white man. (Still almost all from a very narrow group of institutions, though - Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, etc.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:39 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Back in the mid-90s an economist at the Atlanta Fed thought it'd be cool to interview all the movers and shakers from the Nixon era Fed that were still around. He interviewed Milton Friedman, Volker, and a vast number of noted Fed economists from the 50s-80s.

My team worked at the St. Louis Fed where the bulk of the Fed archives are digitized and made available to the public, so we were excited as hell when the research donated the tapes to us and let us digitize them for the public. While we were listening to the tapes and verifying the transcripts, we discover more than one economist mentioned a very prominent member of the Board and Fed President and his tendency to "chase the ladies." Friedman even mentioned that if this dude had spent less time chasing his secretary, maybe Fed Chair Arthur Burns wouldn't have had such a hard time with Nixon. It was mentioned more than once like you would mention someone's golf habits or fondness for steak.

Those interviews were edited because many of the men interviewed were still alive and didn't want that sort of thing out in the world and because the guy they were talking about was still alive as well.

So no. I'm not surprised the Fed economists have an issue with racism or sexism. We frequently "joked" that the Fed was open and welcoming of diversity as long as you were an economist first and whatever else second.

Also, the recordings that remain reveal that economists are catty as hell and no one really wanted to tell Nixon he was an idiot about the economy. Again, no surprises.
posted by teleri025 at 2:08 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]


Re Waring: I read excerpts of If Women Counted when I was in grad school (~1989). If you had told me then that failing to count unpaid work would still be an issue in 2020, I would have thought you were being unnecessarily pessimistic—and I would have been so wrong. Just released: The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Empowering Women, by Linda Scott.

Obligatory disclaimer: I haven't read the book, but my partner (who is mentioned in the acknowledgements) speaks highly of her work.
posted by she's not there at 4:11 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


The problems described in OP's links seem to be endemic to academia and those parts of industry that require advanced post-secondary education.

Somewhat. But to approach part of the problem in a different way, compare salaries in the econ dept. to salaries in the humanities or social sciences, and you'll tend to find a wee (massive) tilting of the scales toward the former. That definitely influences both who goes into the field and the types of questions they ask.

I know a bunch of academics. Some of them are economists. Significantly more of the latter are well-to-do white men. Literally none of the latter are women.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:58 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Physics envy comes to mind - the old urge in economics to make everything as "logical" and mathematical as possible in order to make the field a respectable science.

Arguably the more math-skeptical parts of economics are worse, though? I mean isn't that a big thing about the Austrian School?

On the other hand this does all relate to the superiority complex that the field tends to have regarding the rest of the social sciences.
posted by atoxyl at 2:54 PM on August 1


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