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The Changing Face of Economics

Economists necessarily lack evidence about alternative institutional arrangements that are distant from our current reality. The challenge is to remain true to empiricism without crowding out the imagination needed to envisage the inclusive and freedom-enhancing institutions of the future.

CAMBRIDGE – Responding to pressures from within and without, the economics profession is gradually changing for the better. Not surprisingly, the populist backlash sweeping advanced democracies in recent years has produced some soul searching in the discipline. After all, the austerity, free-trade deals, financial liberalization, and labor market deregulation that caused it rested on the ideas of economists.

But the transformation extends beyond economic-policy tenets. Within the discipline, there is finally a reckoning with the hierarchical practices and aggressive seminar culture that have produced an inhospitable environment for women and minorities. A 2019 survey carried out by the American Economic Association (AEA) revealed that nearly half of female economists felt discriminated against or treated unfairly on account of their gender. Nearly a third of non-white economists felt treated unfairly based on their racial or ethnic identity.

These failings may be related. A profession that is less diverse and less open to different identities is more likely to exhibit groupthink and hubris. If it is to generate ideas to help society achieve inclusive prosperity, it will have to start by becoming more inclusive itself.

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