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Claudia Sahm’s 2020 Critique of Economists’ Behavior

This post is personal one. It is a painful one. I adapted the reflections that I sent to Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Peter Rosseau recently. I have largely redacted names, except for public interactions or my own correspondences. Everyone who is privileged enough to hold a PhD in economics should reflect on our toxic culture. Before you start, read the American Economics Association (AEA)  code of professional conduct and policy on harassment and discrimination. Students please understand that I and many others are working to make your journey better than ours. Economics is hard enough without others who demean you. I love the energy of youth; however, you need allies. We all do. Thankfully, I am healthy now, due to my hard work in managing my bipolar disorder and the loved ones who

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This post is personal one. It is a painful one. I adapted the reflections that I sent to Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Peter Rosseau recently. I have largely redacted names, except for public interactions or my own correspondences.

Everyone who is privileged enough to hold a PhD in economics should reflect on our toxic culture. Before you start, read the American Economics Association (AEA)  code of professional conduct and policy on harassment and discrimination.

Students please understand that I and many others are working to make your journey better than ours. Economics is hard enough without others who demean you. I love the energy of youth; however, you need allies. We all do.

Thankfully, I am healthy now, due to my hard work in managing my bipolar disorder and the loved ones who carry me when I struggle.

Burn it down: economics failed us.

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.

Some experiences I share may seem innocuous. Taken together, they demonstrate a systemic problem. One economists refuse to tackle. We blame bad behavior on victims. I was blamed. We tell them to toughen up. I was and did. We say the harasser is good economist and imply the victim is not. He was supposedly better than me. He is not.

I chose to name the senior men economists [many redacted here], who hurt me and others. They are well-respected. You know them. By doing nothing, you allow them to hurt people. You allow them to teach bad behavior to the next generation. I did too. I blame myself and did not speak up. I am sorry, and that is why I am sharing now. I am not filing a complaint. I am sharing. After more than a decade as a macroeconomist, I am fine. You know me. It is painful to share a part of me you did not know. It is painful to revisit. I do not name names to tar and feather. I do it to make our problem concrete.

I mentor many people. They come to me as an ally, as someone who will listen. I do. Some conversations are happy, people looking for advice on how to be an economist. Some conversations are sad, people dealing with painful experiences in economics. Some get better. Some do not. Last year a Black woman undergrad asked me how to get from her satellite-school state university to a PhD program in economics. We talked and I gave her advice. I emailed her a few months later to see what she had decided.  Her brother replied that his sister had killed herself. She will not be an economist. Other became economists then we drove them away. The tenure of a Native American woman economist was revoked after her men colleagues turned on her. I talk with her regularly. We talk about how she could return to academia after she is healthy again. Do you know how many Native American women are economist? Very few. Do you know how many Black economists work at the Fed? One out of 406. Economics is a disgrace.

The indignities are astounding. The new woman economist at the 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 workShe 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.

Or how about the Southeast Asian research assistant, who I met once? He called me hyperventilating as he told about his abusive work environment. After I hung up, I closed my door and sat in my office sobbing. Economists messed him up. I coached him on how to leave his job and find a new one. He did.

Finally, the woman economics major at Chicago, who went to office hours. She sat on the floor since the room was crowded. Her professor offered her a chair. She said she was fine sitting on the floor. He looked at her and said, “I see you like it on your knees; women do.” Oh yes, and he had had to apologize for telling a sexually explicit ‘joke’ in public. He continues to teach undergraduates.[If I ever cross paths with this old nasty man, I will beat the shit out of him Economics breaks people and it is broken. I am angry. You should be too.

I mainly share my experiences here. I am NOT special. Many have similar experiences, in some cases worse. I have written documents to back these incidents up. It is awful to have these records in my email inbox, my Twitter, my text messages. Do not tell me, good men are economists too. I do not care. You did not protect the victims. You did not protect me. You had to know something was wrong, and you did nothing. I spend considerable time picking up the pieces of people we break. It is not fair. It is wrong what we do.

Economics destroys its students

  • We discourage undergraduates, women and men from studying economics. The AEA’s first climate survey of economics clearly shows our toxic profession, especially among under-represented groups. The AEA should commission surveys of undergraduates, research assistants, pre- and postdoctoral students. Harassment begins in undergraduate classrooms and often does not stop unless you leave economics.
  • We do not nurture the next generation. Many graduate students and economists have mental health issues. Research at Harvard found notably higher rates of depression and anxiety among economics PhD students than other PhD students and the general population. Departments often do send students to campus health resources. The faculty place unrealistic expectations on the students. They are aggressive in private and in public settings. They do not mentor, even when they agree to be their advisors. Faculty suffer too. [Krueger, Weitzman, Sandholm, Farhi, rest in peace. I am so sorry
  • Last year, I reviewed several macro job market papers.  I read their abstracts, introductions, and tables/charts. I worked with students from MIT to India to Stockholm to Santa Barbara and everywhere in between.  All their papers were technically impressive. They also benefited from tips on communication. I tried to help.  They worked hard on every aspect of their research, including the writing.  They thanked me and many said it added to the support from their professors. Some replies suggested I got we must do more for our students, such as:
    • ‘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.”
  • Many advisors and departments, including of these candidates, are supportive. Unfortunately, some are not. I got encouragement at Michigan. Some did not. I know too many graduate student who economists hurt. We must do better. Absolutely must. I will do better too.
  • After I saw some common issues, I wrote a blog post on writing for all job market candidates. It is my most read post by far. I was surprised. My advisor, Matthew Shapiro, taught me how to write research papers. Many advisors do not. Some do. I blogged each of the students revised papers. I cheered  them on during the job market. After one such email,  a woman candidate thanked me. My email came after an exhausting flyout in the middle of an exhausting week of flyouts. None of these students were my responsibility. I was a section chief, managing five economists, two early career, and three research assistants. We can all do more.

Predators target research assistants, graduate students, and early-career economists

  • Research assistants and pre-doctoral fellows are particularly vulnerable. Many are considering a career in economics; however, they do know the culture of economics. They have not chosen to navigate our aggressive norms. The explosion of pre-doctoral programs is a looming disaster. Basically, no economists who supervise these young adults have formal management training. The Board now sends every group manager and section chief to a months-long training. Training does not avoid all bad behavior. No training is much worse.
  • The Board is now recruiting research assistants from under-represented minorities. Even so, Black and Latinx research assistants vastly outnumber the economists of color. Research assistants have the least power at work. They often have bad experiences. One afternoon, a Black woman research assistant at the Board delivered forecast memos to a White officer. The officer thanked her,  using the name of another Black woman research assistant. She corrected her. Six weeks later the officer made the same mistake. The research assistant gave up and asked one of the White research assistants to deliver memos to that officer.
  • Two research assistants, a Black Latinx woman and a Latinx man, designed the first Research Assistant Survey at the Board. I saw the first drafts, as someone who designs surveys. I could see from the start that the results would be uncomfortable. The discomfort of economists should not outweigh, but often does, the discomfort they cause. One striking finding: research assistants were reluctant to offer critical feedback because they were worried that as a result, they would not get a good recommendation for graduate school. Power dynamics are real and early career scholars do not have power. I was in the meeting where they presented the results to the officers and section chiefs. Not surprisingly, the men in the room tried to explain the uncomfortable findings away. It was not them. It was not their division, it was not their section. Bullshit. I said so in the meeting. PS the woman is not going to do a PhD in economics. Very few of the Black women research have, after seeing what economists are like. Breaks my heart. We do NOT deserve them. Diversity without inclusion is cruel.
  • My experiences and those of others taught me that new economists are vulnerable. They are easy to harass and intimate. They have the least power among economists; do not know what is acceptable; and often have impostor syndrome. From 2008 to 2011, one man economist in private and in front of others demeaned my expertise. In 2008, I did not go to my commencement because he had convinced me I did not deserve my PhD. I got the top rating in my performance review in 2008. I now know it is extremely rare for a first-year economist to get top marks. I did deserve my PhD. The harassment did not stop. He and a buddy supervised me on a ‘Literature Conversation with the Chairman’ in May 2011 on household leverage. I was thrilled to present to the Governors. The man came to my office and told me, “ The Chairman does not want to hear about your research. He wants to hear about research that is going to a top journal.” That hurt.I presented Mian and Sufi.  After difficult weeks of preparation, I enjoyed the meeting with Bernanke, Yellen, and Tarullo. As soon as I left the library, I was scolded for not sticking to the research. I talked too much about policy. All the women I know at the Board have had their expertise and accomplishments devalued. I am not special.
  • I was under intense stress as a new economist. I was lead economist on consumer spending; doing my job well; and had other senior officers telling me regularly I did not know what I was doing. The Great Recession and slow recovery as difficult to forecast and painful to watch people out in the real world suffer. I now know that excessive stress is a trigger of bipolar episodes. I did not know then since no one in my family had mental health issues. I had several depression episodes from 2008 to 2011 and one manic episode in 2011. Every winter during those early years at the Board, I was depressed. Every year I tried to commit suicide unsuccessfully. I always did my work, but I could not get out of bed in the winter, except to go to work. Then in 2011, I shot from depression to mania. From April to August, I slept at most four hours at night and became increasingly irritable. I was not myself. I hated myself and my life. I did not know what was wrong. It was a painful time at home and at work.
  • I imploded on the Friday before the August 2011 FOMC meeting. I gave a trusted officer a list of everything that had been said and done to me since I started at the Board. He told me some of it was wrong and to go home and rest. That is only forecast memo I did not finish. Instead, I went to the emergency room and slept for the first time in months. I sent a humiliating email to the ‘good men’ economists in my life. I remain embarrassed by my unhinged email. My advisor called my ally that night and asked “what did you do to her.” My Board ally gets credit for me keeping my job. But even he did not tell me to go to Employee Relations, the professional mediators at the Board. I went to another officer in administration on forecast-related episode with these same two men. She said it was better they questioned my judgment in private than in a forecast meeting. I disagreed. In a meeting, I would have had backup. I stopped going to people. It was always my fault. It was always explained away.
  • My ally, who had a reporting requirement, did not tell me that I could file an EEOC complaint for harassment. I did not know until 2018, as a section chief, that we had Employee Relations at the Board. I could have gotten help. I could have filed an EEOC complaint. My ally made sure I never reported to that man on a project again.  I said I would quit if I did. My ally also signed off on my worst evaluation in 12 years at the Board. They almost killed me and I got the bad marks? I spent years on therapy and took loads of medication. My husband left and tried unsuccessfully to get full custody of our children. My tormentor is now a very high ranking officer. I left the Fed. They do not deserve me.

Elites punch down and attack those with opinions different than theirs

  • Elite departments are the gatekeepers of the economics profession. They circle wagons around other elites. MIT, Harvard, and Chicago define what is good research. They run two of the top five journals that many elite departments require for tenure. They decide what is cutting-edge research. They decide who gets the top honors in the profession. For decades, research on race and gender, as well as work using feminist or alternate frameworks were rejected. The gatekeepers passed leadership to their students at elite universities. Many MIT and Harvard students are automatic members of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Economists outside elite circles are not seen as top researchers; they are not voted in as members of the NBER; they are not invited to give seminars at elite departments; and they are not on AEA Exec. A handful of departments run economics. They maintain an exclusive culture.
  • Hostile attacks from senior economists on junior economists are common, often in seminars and other public settings. As one personal example, in May 2015 on Twitter, Dick Thaler, a Nobel Laureate, was talking with Noah Smith about effects of Making Work Pay tax credit on consumer spending. I sent Noah my paper with Matthew Shapiro and Joel Slemrod. We find that the 2009-10 tax credit, which was partly based on Thaler’s earlier research, was less effective than the 2008 tax rebates. I had shared the link to the FEDS working paper version. Thaler’s public tweet reply, “there is a reason that paper was never published. Badly flawed. Asked people to remember what they did with the money. Huh?”  He was the AEA President at the time. I replied politely, “actually it was published in AEJ: Economic Policy, thanks!” Then he said, “ok, one for your side. I have not seen the published version.” So much for an open exchange of ideas. Our hyper-competitive field allows point scoring over scientific inquiry.
  • In another episode when Thaler was AEA President, he derided research by Andrew Chang, an Asian man economist at the Board, and his co-author Phillip Li. In their paper, “Is Economics Research Replicable? Sixty Published Papers from Thirteen Journals Say, ‘Often No.’” they tried to replicate results in 67 papers published in 13 well-regarded economics journals using author-provided files. They could replicate the main result in only one third of the papers without the authors help and only half with their help.  Thaler disagreed vehemently with their results. On Twitter, Thaler said to Emily Oster, “that paper’s title is HIGHLY misleading. No significant errors were found. Like saying Federer’s serve is hard to replicate.” WTF, Dick? The authors and several Board research assistants had devoted hundreds of hours to their study. Thaler’s public tweet was rude. No surprise their paper was desk rejected at the American Economic Review and not published at any journal in their study.  Early-career economists often suffer retaliation when they question top economists.  [PS Dick, do not email me again. Ever
  • The attacks on my economic expertise continue now. Every year at least one senior man has disparaged my expertise to my face or in writing to me. Every year! After Kate Davidson at the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece on the Sahm rule, I received an email from Bill Dudley, the former President of the New York Fed. I had never met or spoken to Dudley before. He sent me a screenshot of a Goldman Sachs newsletter in 2001 with a recession indicator. The subtext to me was I did not deserve the Sahm rule. The Sahm rule is in FRED, Haver, and Bloomberg terminals. It was my last week at the Board when he emailed me. Not only did I have a man again suggesting that I did not deserve my accomplishments. The indicator in the newsletter was the Board’s internal rule of thumb and is not as accurate as my indicator. After my Sahm rule first got attention, a man from the Ohio state government contacted me and said they were thinking about using my rule to kick on enhanced food stamp benefits in a recession. If a recession indicator were widely known, if  everyone got that Goldman Sachs newsletter, no one would have cared about the Sahm rule. They do care. It is now in several legislative proposals for automatic stabilizers. Why didn’t Dudley work on that? If had listened to all the men like Dudley during my career, the Sahm rule would not exist. I would not be here. My roadblocks are not special.

Economists discourage economists from under-represented groups

  • Economics has a race problem. Recent racist remarks from leading economists, such as Harold Uhlig, highlight the problem. On Twitter, he blamed the protesters for the riots after George Floyd’s murder. Uhlig questioned their right to free assembly. When others pushed back on Twitter he doubled down. Lones Smith came to his defense quoting Martin Luther King Jr. I reminded Smith that we killed him. Smith too doubled down. A former Black student Bocar Ba at Chicago shared that Uhlig had made racist comments in class and moved his lecture to Martin Luther King holiday. Uhlig had passed it off as a joke. Another Black woman economist in a different cohort shared a similar experience with Uhlig. The New York Times covered the incident. Research on racism is not published in the JPE, which is unsurprising given Uhlig’s role as its head editor.
  • Both Uhlig and Smith have a history of undermining women economists. As the head editor at the Journal of Political Economy,  Uhlig is known for being an unfair editor, including third-round rejections of papers and questionable treatment of authors. Smith harassed women for years while at Michigan. Every PhD student had to take his micro theory class. He told women friends of mine that they should leave economics. He made sexist remarks in class. The department tolerated his unprofessional behavior and celebrated his research. He left for Wisconsin in 2013. That same year, Martha Bailey was the first woman to receive tenure at Michigan.
  • Top research on race and economics often perpetuates racist tropes. In an interview in April 2020, Jim Heckman said,
    • “The progress of African Americans over the past century is staggering. Many have shaken off the legacies of poverty and discrimination. Those who deny that the American Dream is achievable ignore the myriad success stories and the mindset for personal growth that America offers.”
    • “The current research in the field is shoddy. It has gained traction because it appeals to the negative image of American society held by leading opinion makers like the New York Times and the Atlantic.”
  • Numerous economists pushed back on his claims on Twitter. They argued that Black people continue to face discrimination and economic barriers. He undercut research that disagrees with him not on scientific merits but cultural policies. I wrote on Twitter that I disagree with Heckman’s comments, but said he had the right to hold those views. I noted that he co-authored with people of color. One of those co-authors privately messaged me and recounted incidents when Heckman made racist comments. The person pointed out to Heckman that the data did not support his claims. Heckman dismissed these facts and made racist remarks on other occasions. The person of color was offended but did not pursue the issue. Others reminded me that Heckman has published research for decades, promoting his narrow-minded view of racial and ethnic minorities. Heckman is a Nobel Laureate.
  • Professors make racists and sexist remarks to undergraduates. In addition to being disrespectful, it makes them less likely to pursue a career in economics. A recent major in economics at Penn, told me how senior professor repeatedly made such comments. One example was in an undergrad labor economics class. He could not remember the word for Native Americans. He called them “red Indians.”  The students were stunned and did not know what to say. He also made sexist comments to undergraduate women. He suggested that women students should get an MBA not an econ PhD. He said it is hard for women to have kids and do economics. The man student, who witnessed these incidents, complained to the department and to the economics student association. No action was taken. He does not want to be an economist. Shocker.
  • Leaders often downplay the concerns of women and minority men economists. When economists in under-represented groups report an incident, they are often told they are being too sensitive or unreasonable. The leaders of the profession turn a blind eye to such reports. Often the profession awards economists esteemed positions without checking complaints. Roland Fryer was elected to the AEA Executive while a case of sexual harassment was pending against him. David Card was elected 2021 AEA President, in an uncontested election, even as Asian economists were concerned about his views toward them.  It should surprise no one that David Card’s work, as a paid consultant for Harvard, upset our Asian colleagues. Card argued that systematically subjective ratings on ‘soft skills’ justified Harvard not admitting Asians with higher test scores and grades. Asian economists have long complained others ding their technically solid work for not being creative. Card will assume the leadership of the AEA in January. I am not here to judge, but I do think an conversation is necessary.
  • Elites tolerate the bad behavior of other elites. The reverence toward Larry Summer exemplifies my claim. During his entire career, Summers has attacked others who disagree with him. He is Clark Medalist, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and an adviser to Barack Obama. Summers has done more than any current economist to devalue the contributions of women economists during my career. As the President of Harvard, in 2005, Summers  delivered remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce. One hypothesis he offered for fewer women faculty in the sciences was “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” One could counter “Larry was only “asking questions” about women’s IQ. Anyone who does research knows that the questions we ask reflect our priors and our interests. I was a PhD student at the time of his speech. I did not attend the lecture, but I heard about  it. I cannot imagine how the women in the room felt. I know I felt awful when I read it. It is badly argued and tone deaf at the struggles that women face in economics.
  • Summers continues to demean women economics. I had an early career woman come to me recently with an inexcusable interaction with him. Larry, it is not women’s IQ, it’s yours that is the problem. She questioned whether economics was for her. I told her she is an awesome economist. It is true. Why am I picking up the pieces of your bad behavior? Harvard economics what is wrong with you all?

Economics promotes elitism over science

  • Leaders of the economics profession, including AEA Execute, Nobel Laureates, Clark Medalist, almost exclusively hold degrees from top universities. {AEA END THE CLARK MEDAL NOW!!] They have top publications. They are Fed Chairs; Council of Economic Advisers Chairs; and Treasury Secretaries. They have huge public platforms. Many elites argue that they earned their status. To some extent that is true. They worked hard. In many cases their research it top notch. Even so, they won the lottery when admitted to a top program. Some won the lottery earlier and were born into prestigious economic families. From the start of their education, they were taught the methods and the research questions that the leaders in the discipline thought worthy of inquiry. Their outcomes partially reflect their privileged start in economics. It is inexcusable that AEA Executive does not reflect the diversity of its members. It is inexcusable that faculty from liberal arts colleges and state schools have never led the AEA. It is inexcusable that economists with other methodological approaches have not led. Elitism suppresses diversity and inclusion.
  • Elites defend their status. On Twitter, I criticized Blanchard’s claims in a Financial Times article in May,“Why inflation might follow the pandemic?” I said that I disagreed with his ‘what if’ inflation scenarios and said they were badly timed. [Yes, I was colorful and had gifs Olivier asked me why I was criticizing him. I explained. It was a professional conversation. Two of my mentors, well-respected macroeconomists told me to layoff Blanchard. Why? Seriously, this spring was NOT the time to call up the inflation zombie. This incident is an example of how elites protect other elites. I told Blanchard about my scoldings. He told me to “go after the right targets” not him. I should be allowed to argue on economic merits [see code of conduct], regardless of who the other person is. I will continue to. I did not do the interview seminar at Peterson, because I worried Blanchard would vote me down. True or not, that is how I felt. [No, I do not want an email from any of you. I respect you and that is why it hurts I am fortunate that I had other good job options. People who do not make me feel like a shit economist.

Economists hurt people outside economics with bad policy advice

  • The toxic culture of economics reduces the quality of our economic policy advice. As a personal example: in early 2008, I was talking with a peer about the staff’s assumptions on spending from the rebates. He was the briefer and I was consumption analyst. The briefing text did not accurately convey our views on the rebates. My tormentor walked in and said to him, “don’t listen to her. She does not know what she is talking about.” I was speechless and hurt. I left the office. At the briefing, my peer repeated the incorrect description of the staff view. They teach staff economists not to stand up in the Board room and contradict a colleague. I sat quietly. I was demoralized. Not only did the officer undermine my credibility; my peer listened; and the Board did not get our best thinking.
  • As a bigger example, national media is now covering racism in economics. Nearly all Black economists who study racism have had their research marginalized and rejected from top journals. Instead, during the mass protests, we had Harold Uhlig, the head editor at a top 5 journal sharing his racist views on Twitter and his blog. It is painfully obvious why the leaders in the economics profession do not have anything intelligent about race and economy. It matters for large groups of people. Black unemployment is always, in good times and bad, nearly twice the White unemployment rate. We did not learn that in my macro or labor field courses. We did not teach that in Intermediate Macro. If we do not know the facts, if we do not ask the questions, then how will offer well-tailored policy advice. Amara Omeokwe at the Wall Street Journal wrote, “Economics Journals Faulted for Neglecting Studies on Race and Discrimination.” She details the barriers that Black economists face to publish their work. It is 2020 and our Black colleagues must still explain why their research is top notch?
  • The damage in economics is on full display in the Covid-19 crisis. From bad economic policy advice to counterproductive infighting, economics is failing the American people.  Elites shut down debate. First illustration is in Paul Krugman’s, “Will We Flunk Pandemic Economics?” in early April.
    • “What should we be doing? Serious economists have already reached a rough consensus over the appropriate policy response to a pandemic. The bottom line is that this isn’t a conventional recession, which calls for broad-based economic stimulus.”
    • Who are the “serious economists?” Krugman links to Blanchard and Werning. I did not agree with their views on the economy or policy responses; however, reasonable people can disagree then. However, when elites define who is a “serious economist” and who is not, they suppress debate. I ended up being right about the recession and the policy response. Good thing I do not mind being “unserious” and I, not them, advise Congress.
  • Secondly, many economists are tone deaf to the crisis. At a virtual macro seminar early in the crisis, a well-respected economist was asked about the model. He replied, “deaths from the coronavirus are changes in the stock of people in my model.” Yes, that is a literal reading of the math, but we were in a raging pandemic. His seminar was live-streamed and public. None of the macro men on the screen batted an eye. Economics is a disgrace and clueless.
  • Finally, economists blur the line between research and politics. Last month, Tomas Philipson was fired from the Council Economic Advisers. Philipson began as a member in 2017 and was appointed Acting Chair after Kevin Hassett left. Tyler Goodspeed is now the Acting Chair at CEA, and there are no members. I and many others have criticized the economic analysis from CEA during this crisis. That said, I respect anyone who serves in the government. In this time of crisis, we especially need good economists at CEA. After the news broke that Philipson was leaving, many elite economists attacked him. They smeared his character. Many made fun of Goodspeed’s lack of experience. My comeback to the critics was to ask if they had volunteered to serve at CEA. I and other former CEA economists have been helping CEA since the crisis began. The vocal critics have not. Why not? The world is burning. How could you not add your expertise?

Recent AEA efforts cause pain and burden women and minority men economists

  • A reckoning over gender in economics began in August 2017, when Justin Wolfers wrote “Evidence of a Toxic Environment for Women in Economics” about Alice Wu’s research in the New York Times. Wu’s paper, “Gender Bias in Rumors Among Professionals: An Identity-based Interpretation,” was her undergraduate thesis at Berkeley. She documented the misogynistic, racist, homophobic comments about economists on the anonymous forum, Economic Job Market Rumors. EJMR began when I was on the job market in 2007. Economists have been told since then to ignore the website, even as economists were viciously attacked, in at least one case, stalked at a conference. Nonetheless, most job market candidates visit the EJMR Job Wiki to get non-public information on the hiring status. Some advisers encourage their students to check it. EJMR is not the source of our toxic culture is a symptom of it.
  • After the article on Wu’s research, economists demanded that the AEA address the horrible behavior on EJMR and in the profession. The AEA acted. We now have the AEA Code of Professional Conduct; Policy on Harassment and Discrimination; Ombudsperson; Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Professional Conduct; our first Climate Survey; EconSpark (a substitute for EJMR forum); and EconTrack (a substitute for EJMR Job Wiki). I appreciate these efforts. Unfortunately, their implementation was uneven. Poor implementation hurts victims again and discourages economists from coming forward.
  • After the AEA created EconSpark, Exec members started conversations. They tried to draw economists to the new site and away from EJMR. It did not work. The site is used infrequently. It did not become a substitute for EJMR. Instead of asking why and trying a new approach, the AEA seems to have abandoned the effort.
  • Another well-intentioned effort was AEA EconTrack. The idea is to have departments register and log their job market status to the website. Job candidates can check this verified information as opposed to the crowd sourced, anonymous information on EJMR. Again, the implementation fell short. Early this year, I began emailing departments whose flyouts list was on EJMR. I showed them the information on EJMR. I asked them to consider posting on EconTrack. I contacted over 20 departments, about half joined EconTrack. I doubled the number of departments on EconTrack. Getting departments to join EconTrack was not my job. It took time and a few chairs asked why I was contacting them and not the AEA. Good question. I did it for the job candidates. Even with my efforts many more departments were on EJMR’s Job Wiki than EconTrack.
  • Finally, the process to file a harassment and discrimination complaint was not ready to launch last year. I filed the first complaint in the summer of 2019. It was on behalf of a man economist who had been viciously harassed on EJMR for years. After I sent in my complaint, Leto Copeley told me it “would not stand up in a court of law.” I do not see anything in the AEA policy about going to court. I retracted my complaint.  I got EJMR to remove the thread that included a death threat against him. Later, I was met with skepticism when I sent screenshots of an attack on a Black woman economist. I did not feel like Copeley understood the gravity of the thread. It was started by a colleague of the woman who said she did not deserve promotion. He copied her CV into EJMR. Others piled on and one referred to her as a “monkey.” WHO DOES THAT?? After the second discouraging interaction with Copeley, I no longer recommend people contact her. I will not file another complaint. The AEA is working to improve the system. Next time AEA wait until you have a process that works. You are hurting victims. It is not Copeley’s fault. It is a bad process that the AEA put in place. Do better.

In closing, thank you for the opportunity to share my reflections on economics. I will continue to mentor and support others. Our future is so bright. I cannot undo the hurt that economics causes. I am tired. Efforts to change our culture are cheap talk if we do not act. Instead of a victory lap, we should be ashamed of the lack of progress and the sloppy implementation. Until we make progress, I will no longer identify as a member of the American Economics Association or the economics profession. Congrats.

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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