How to suc­ceed as an aca­d­e­mic econ­o­mist

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A blog par­tic­i­pant (Lyon­wiss) recently made a com­ment about the gen­eral state of aca­d­e­mic eco­nom­ics that was so “spot on” I wanted to share it more widely. I have of course fol­lowed the exact oppo­site of the con­ven­tional route to pub­lish­ing suc­cess that Lyon­wiss out­lines here–and I’ve encoun­tered the neg­a­tive con­se­quences he notes, of rejec­tion by neo­clas­si­cal ref­er­ees and edi­tors.

Here is Lyonwiss’s fool­proof for­mula for pub­lish­ing suc­cess in aca­d­e­mic eco­nom­ics:

Aca­d­e­mics wants to write research papers and have them pub­lished. Uni­ver­sity bureau­cra­cies are not only bean coun­ters, they are also paper coun­ters. Pro­mo­tion depends on the num­ber of papers pub­lished. Pub­lish­ing papers is not the same thing as actu­ally doing research.

Hav­ing read far more  eco­nomic papers that I care to admit, I have worked out the “secret” for­mula for achiev­ing a volu­mi­nous pub­li­ca­tion record in the sub­ject. The “recipe” for pub­li­ca­tion suc­cess is as fol­lows.

Step 1: Cite the work of as many poten­tial ref­er­ees to your paper as pos­si­ble, as this will soothe their egos and shows that you are one of them. Make sure that your paper is seen as merely an exten­sion of the work of one of the gurus and you are not going to “rock the boat”, chal­leng­ing the estab­lish­ment.

Step 2: For the bulk of your paper, bam­boo­zle your readers/referees with a com­pli­cated model or argu­ment, mak­ing any assump­tions you need (how­ever unre­al­is­tic), because Mil­ton Fried­man has already cov­ered you with his essay on “the method­ol­ogy of pos­i­tive eco­nom­ics”. If you have enough com­plex­ity in math­e­mat­ics or argu­ment, it is likely that the reader/referee will not bother to fol­low the heart of your paper in detail.

Step 3: It is vitally impor­tant that in your con­clu­sions that you only make mod­est claims in sup­port­ing the sta­tus quo, such as eg the evi­dence or the model lends sup­port to the effi­cient mar­ket hypoth­e­sis or glob­al­iza­tion or what­ever. Quite often, your con­clu­sions do not have to fol­low from what you did in Step 2. Any strong con­clu­sions, par­tic­u­larly when chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, will lead a much closer scrutiny of your paper by the ref­eree, who is tak­ing a career risk in accept­ing your paper. As the addi­tional effort is not per­son­ally rewarded, the eco­nom­i­cally ratio­nal action for the ref­eree is to sim­ply reject the paper.

This “recipe” leads to career suc­cess for many, as there are thou­sands of papers pub­lished by many eco­nomic pro­fes­sors who have made lit­tle dif­fer­ence to eco­nom­ics in any way which mat­ters. The “Egg and Krug” paper is good exam­ple of the “recipe” in action. Read­ing between the lines in some of what Krug­man wrote, I sug­gest that he appears to admit to play­ing such a game.

Aca­d­e­mic col­lu­sion in partly caus­ing the global finan­cial cri­sis has been doc­u­mented in the “Inside Job”, which won the recent Oscar for best doc­u­men­tary. Noth­ing really sur­pris­ing there, but worth see­ing nev­er­the­less. The fraud involv­ing acad­e­mia is prob­a­bly quite exten­sive, e.g. the recent res­ig­na­tion of Gut­ten­berg, the Ger­man for­eign min­is­ter. Full marks to Steve for fight­ing such an aca­d­e­mic fraud.

About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.
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  • Lloy­die

    But truth mat­ters in the real world. As most of the world still believes in EMH (weak form, strong form what­ever tweaks take your fancy), asset con­sul­tants’ prog­nos­ti­ca­tions, CAPM, neo­clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics, the seem­ingly irrel­e­vance of debt, reported com­pany prof­its in annual reports — this gives you the informed investor an excel­lent oppor­tu­nity to profit from fools. 

    So, in effect, short the mar­ket when the incum­bents are bull­ish and go long when the ortho­doxy is pes­simistic. Add lever­age to make things more inter­est­ing but only if you know your capac­ity lim­its. Voila. I don’t feel a sin­gle shred of resent­ment for the estab­lish­ment. I profit from them.

  • Lloy­die

    Ok, there is a lit­tle bit of resent­ment but only because the Gov­ern­ment and banks keep telling Gen Ys to take out large home loans, which they can never prof­itably pay back. It’s a sad sit­u­a­tion.

  • Lyon­wiss

    Ok. There are greater fools than your­self. But is it pos­si­ble that you are a greater fool to some­one else, an invest­ment bank or a gov­ern­ment per­haps? If some­one can manip­u­late the sys­tem, infor­ma­tion is irrel­e­vant. At best, you can only limit loss com­pared to the rest.

  • Lyon­wiss


    You will not be sur­prised be here is just another recent exam­ple (among many) about what most peo­ple think about man­age­ment:

  • Lloy­die

    That is an inter­est­ing propo­si­tion. How­ever, unless you are pre­pared to accept hyper­in­fla­tion in the US, there is no escap­ing a debt defla­tion col­lapse. Regard­less of what Govts aided by neo­clas­si­cal econ­o­mists think.