Road to Sociology Watch

One of my more recent ideas is that academic economics is on the road to becoming like academic sociology. That is, it will become increasingly driven by a left-wing agenda. Consider the table of contents for the May 2017 issue of the American Economic Review, which is the “papers and proceedings” issue for the latest annual conference of the American Economics Association.

It includes 11 papers from three sessions on gender, plus 3 other papers with “gender” in the title. It includes 15 papers on inequality. These topics account for over 20 percent of the published session papers.

At leading universities, I can think of several conservative economists, but all of them are around 60 years old or older. In 15 years, not even Chicago will have conservatives teaching economics courses.

I should point out that I have nothing against sociology in principle. In fact, it would do economists some good to think in terms of human interaction rather than focus so much on modeling the autonomous individual. If academic sociology were broader than the study of racial and gender, then economics would have much to gain by incorporating insights from sociology.

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12 Responses to Road to Sociology Watch

  1. Andrew' says:

    It sounds like sociology is already just doing bad economics.

  2. collin says:

    At leading universities, I can think of several conservative economists, but all of them are around 60 years old or older.

    Why is that? Economics used to one area where the hard right used to dominate.

    I assumed one reason why conservatives avoiding academia was it paid less. Is that still true?

    • Andrew' says:

      Those strike me as odd statements. Economics is seen as “hard right”? If so, we found the problem.

      Why sod liberal economists not want to also be paid more?

      • djf says:

        I have a feeling that Collin regards David Brooks as “hard right.”

      • collin says:

        I was confusing points here. In general academia, I assumed that most conservatives have avoided professors as opposed to private sector is because it pays less. Basically a huge self-selection process here. I remember in 1990 that showed Economic Masters Degree holder earned more than PHd holders. So the harder right Economic Majors, the last couple generations going into academia lowered wages.

        For leftist sociology or English PHd, the Professor route might still be better paying than private sector.

  3. Octavian says:

    For once I’m more optimistic. While favorable attitudes toward more entitlements may be growing (I wouldn’t know), all my undergrad Econ profs a few years ago – generally fairly young – were anti-direct controls, even the left leaning ones.

    Additionally, my young female econometrics professor, for one of her first examples of the usefulness of econometrics/linear regression, demonstrated that the ‘gender gap’ was due almost entirely to confounding variables. These are things sociology profs would probably badly consider ‘right wing.’

    Professors’ attitudes may shift, but inasmuch as economics is (at least theoretically) a quantitative science, reality still imposes bounds on how much those attitudes can actually push academic research away from free market thinking. I mean, isn’t that precisely why Econ has resisted leftist trends in academia in the first place? Because it is more tethered to reality than the more ethereal social sciences.

    Lastly, it’s worth noting that even in the far left social sciences, the best quality research usually goes against the leftist narratives. E.g., Murray Straus’s research on domestic violence basically debunks feminist understanding of that phenomenon, and is far more worth reading than pretty much any other author in the field.

    • Andrew' says:

      How dare you undermine a movement by publishing your results!

      • Andrew' says:

        Is it possible for such fields to be politically neutral?

        • Octavian says:

          Whatever politically neutral means, I think it is definitely possible for fields to produce a considerable amount of research that contradicts the political attitudes that predominate the discipline, even the researchers producing the research themselves.

          Of course it depends how enforced political taboos are. Regarding my example of Murray Straus doing research contradicting the ideological disposition of the discipline, he himself has been shouted down at conferences, gotten angry letter sent by colleagues to his superiors at his institution trying to get him fired, etc. So there is a cost to testing hypotheses that might contradict the established consensus.

  4. Vladimir says:

    You forgot to add, “Have a nice day.”

  5. Andy says:

    Some comments:

    First, “inequality” and “gender” have long been topics of study within economics. For instance, I would go so far as saying the entire field of macro growth is solely dedicated to understanding inequality (“why are some countries poor?” is their first order question). Both topics was certainly front and center in my quite conservative Chicago grad education in both micro and macro. I could hardly imagine my Becker Price Theory lectures without extensive focus on gender economics. And Lucas spent half his 2nd year elective class discussing inequality in general equilibrium contexts.

    Perhaps more pedantically, Google scholar searches of “gender wage gap economics” or “inequality economics” published prior to 1985 yield a great deal of top-notch work by several esteemed scholars in top journals. If this is your measure of sociology penetration than showing some measure of *trend* in the study of men and women or how income is distributed would be much better unless the claim is that economics has been like academic sociology for 35+ years and economists such as Gary Becker, Jacob Mincer, Robert Barro, etc, etc, etc have been pulling the wool over our eyes forever and ever.

    Finally, the selection of AEA sessions for inclusion in the AER P&P is non-random and ends up biased towards particular topics in particular years. Having one year’s P&P apparently focused on “sociology” issues (n.b. even if measured correctly) is a very noisy signal of true sociological penetration. (To be fair, though, it does suggest that the AEA gatekeeper’s deemed this a valuable inclusion at the top level.)

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