economists learning to code, together

UPDATE: The AEA has posted its report and draft of the professional code of conduct. Open for comments until March 15.

honesty and integrity in our work, civil and respectful dialogues in any forum, responsibility for own and collective conduct …

Friday night as I heard John Campbell describe plans for a new professional code of conduct for economists, my mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions. Above all, was a weary hallelujah. This is the clearest high-profile recognition I have heard that economics has a problem here. I also took comfort in being wrong: back in September on this blog, I had staked out an expectation of being disappointed by the AEA’s response to Alice Wu’s findings. In my defense, it doesn’t take a DSGE model to tell you how hard it is for economists to set their sights on a new equilibrium.  This outcome was not a given; it took many voices (see, weary above). The AEA received a petition with over 1,000 economist signatures, an #EJMinfo hashtag was set up by two concerned economists, and countless discussions followed. I know many of those voices personally and my PhD advisor was on the code’s committee, so I sat there feeling immensely grateful.

Of course, not every thought I had was positive. At the start of the business meeting, I shot off a grumpy tweet: “true, lots of women here … but none at the head table, not encouraging.” I am sure AEA President Al Roth was trying to lighten the mood by referring to the “largest crowd ever” in the room, but frankly I wasn’t in the mood for jokes.  One surprise (to me) by having spoken up about the culture in economics is how people now come to me with their painful experiences. It SUCKS, hurts, makes me angry, and tests my love of economics. Roth’s joke made me think how we could have filled the Grand Ballroom (it wasn’t really a big crowd) with all the “lost economists” … the men and women who got hurt by our culture and walked away or who never felt invited in. Of course, if they had been assembled, we would have heard an apology, right? I did not hear an apology.

Setting aside, what a mess my internal wiring is … the code of conduct and the next steps outlined by Peter Rousseau at the business meeting will take a lot of work, from everyone. More diversity among the AEA officers (did you know an economist from a liberal arts college has never been elected?), a survey of the professional climate in economics (reminder: data are endogenous), AEA promoting best practices to end harassment and supporting victims (it’s about time), a new Job Wiki run by the AEA (thanks #EJMinfo for showing it can be done non-anonymously), and a moderated online forum for economists (thanks EJMR for showing how asymmetric info is in the profession and how much we need moderators). Inspiring words from a new AEA committee are not enough, ask CSWEP (founded in 1971) how hard it is to move the dial on presence of women in economics (no progress in last 20 years).

I’ll close with some backward induction. Look up again at the new goals for professional conduct … go to that new equilibrium in your mind and then solve backward to today. Think of all the tough conversations, sticking points (even defining terms will be hard), and tears between where we are now and where we want to go. I know. My Twitter is littered with my clumsy (but patient) attempts on this topic, like this two-day convo on seminar culture or this on diversity in macro panels. And I am not going to stop. I also got a head start on the tears (cried Friday night back in my room) … but I LOVE the idea from this code that we are in it together. Each of us taking collective responsibility for economics is a tall order but essential for real progress.

It will be glorious. Let’s get to it.  #ASSA2018  #thankyou

Addendum: I wrote this post from notes I took at the AEA Business Meeting. Here is related news coverage in the WSJ and Bloomberg. Look for the AEA to publish its proposals for member comment soon. And please, when they do, take time to send them your comments. I will.

Author: Claudia Sahm

economist - my views here are my own

2 thoughts on “economists learning to code, together”

  1. Wu’s paper forced the profession to discuss this topic because it left the world of anecdotal and entered the world of data. A language that many economists speak. These ideas have been expressed many times in the past by CSWEP, CSMGEP, NEA, and ASHE. Wu’s paper made the lamppost a bit brighter so that we could see a bit more of the dark corners of our profession.

    1. TBH I think that most economists that finished grad school more than five years ago had dismissed EJMR as unimportant. The discussion of her paper made us take it seriously because we realized undergrads and grad students used it for career decisions.

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