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The Closed Marketplace of Economic Ideas

MILAN – Imagine that you fell asleep in 2006 and woke up today. The world economy would be barely recognizable. While you were dreaming of real-estate riches, the United States and Europe were hit by the most crippling financial crisis in almost 80 years, and China’s statist economy swiftly overtook Germany and Japan to become the world’s second largest (and, despite its recent slowdown, is poised to surpass the US).

Given such massive, unexpected shifts, you might be even more surprised by what didn’t change: the way economists think about themselves and their discipline.

To see this, one need look no further than the Ideas.RePEc.org website. RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) arguably provides the closest thing to a credible hierarchy of economists, not unlike the ATP’s rankings of professional tennis players. The site, entirely open and free (thanks to hundreds of volunteers in 82 countries), maintains a decentralized online database of around two million items of economic research, including working papers, journal articles, books, and software. Its index of influence assesses the number of citations for each author, weighted by impact and discounted by citation age (otherwise, Adam Smith and Karl Marx would likely still top the list).

Because the ranking is updated every month, RePEc enables one to track which economists are viewed by their peers as the most influential over time. So I compared the rankings from December 2006 and September 2015 to see whether the RePEc index had evolved along with economic reality.