The Research Interests of Academic Economists, Part I

The American Economic Association holds its annual meeting in early January. It posts a call for papers to its members, and a selection committee decides which papers will be presented in concurrent sessions at the meetings. In May, a selected group of papers from the meeting is published in the American Economic Review. This year, 622 papers were presented at the meeting, and 115 of them were published in the May issue of the American Economic Review.

These papers should give a pretty good indication of the research interests of academic economists. They are, in fact, the research findings of the economists who wrote the articles, and they went through a two-stage selection process, first being selected to be on the program and then being selected to be published in the journal. Presumably, with the journal’s readership in mind, the articles that were published represent those that would be of most interest to academic economists, and that are representative of the research topics undertaken by them.

Economic issues have been in the news lately, with inflation accelerating, supply chain issues interfering with markets, with COVID policies interfering with economic activity, a rising national debt, and questions about international trade policy. What subjects do those 115 articles address?

Race and gender issues get the most coverage, and are the subjects of 44 of the 115 total articles. That’s 38% of the total. Migration and immigration are the subjects of 10 articles, or 9%. Much has been made lately about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion movement in academics, and it is apparent in the research interests of economists.

Twelve articles deal with the effects of COVID and the government policies addressing it, although some of these articles are also included in the race and gender category. For example, I included articles like “COVID-19 and its Impact on Minority-Owned Banks” and “Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 in Developing Countries” in both categories. (I didn’t include any articles in both the race and gender category and the migration and immigration category.)

What other topics interest economists? Twelve articles were about wealth and saving, six were about unemployment, four discussed government debt and deficit finance, and three discussed international trade. Several articles also discussed taxation, including ways that governments could implement wealth taxes.

Several noteworthy topics were not covered at all. There were no articles on inflation, and no articles on supply chain issues, despite the frequent appearance of those issues in the popular press. While the general public looks at the economy and is concerned about rising inflation, the rapidly increasing national debt, and supply chain issues that disrupt markets, academic economists appear to have much more interest in issues surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Welcome to the Ivory tower.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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