This was certainly a busy week for anyone following some of the ethics sagas in our profession. First, there was the non-renewal and temper tantrum of Bruno Frey, then there is the American Economic Association awarding the John Bates Clark Medal to Amy Finkelstein. Following my previous post on this award, this is hardly a surprise. For those keeping score, the last awards were given to:
2012: Amy Finkelstein, PhD MIT, Faculty at MIT
2011: Jonathan Levin, PhD MIT, Faculty at Stanford
2010: Esther Duflo, PhD MIT, Faculty at MIT
2009: Emmanuel Saez, PhD MIT, Faculty Harvard then Berkeley
2007: Susan Athey, PhD Stanford, Faculty at MIT then Stanford and Harvard
2005: Daron Acemoglu, PhD LSE, Faculty at MIT
2003: Steven Levitt, PhD MIT, Fellow at Harvard then faculty at Chicago
2001: Matthew Rabin, PhD MIT, Faculty at Berkeley
1999: Andrei Shleifer, PhD MIT, Faculty at Princeton, Chicago and Harvard
It is somewhat hard to swallow that MIT students and faculty are so much better than the rest, but one cannot discard the possibility that this could happen. What is more suspect is the composition of the committee: of the seven, three have an MIT PhD (Abel, Crawford and Hoxby), and one is faculty at MIT (Banerjee). What is the American Economic Association thinking? If you want to lend any credibility to this award, and you know who the prime candidates are, you put together a committee that does not look like it was constituted at the MIT ASSA cocktail party. It is true that in the past years, MIT PhDs were a majority on the committee, so there is progress, but the longer the streak goes, the more it looks dubious. It is especially annoying that Banerjee was put back in the committee two years after he gave the award to his colleague and lover (not a secret any more now that they have a baby).
The American Economic Association needs a serious overhaul of its committees. They are stacked with people from the same places, losing the representativity of the association. The proposed candidates for office are always coming from the same institutions, and a write-in campaigns cannot be successful. The AEA has already lost its credibility with its main award, and it needs to be very careful that its new journals do not go the same way, as they are again stacked with the usual suspects as editors. No surprise then that they have a really hard time taking off, despite all what people at the suspect institutions will tell you.
I hate quotas, but I think that in the current situation, the AEA needs to institute quotas in all its committees and editorial boards, if only to get out of a potential situation of self-fulfilling group thinking. No more than two PhDs or faculty from the same institution on the same committee or board. Have at least a "professional" economist and an economist from government or Fed on every committee. Same for non-PhD-granting colleges. Have true elections for president and vice-president with multiple candidates. And, why not, let the John Bates Clark medal be awarded by complete outsiders: academic economists not based in the US and not educated in the US (but not Ernst Fehr).