Sunday, August 2, 2020

Is The Latest Apparent Economist Suicide A Sign "Economics Is A Disaster"?

On July 23, 41-year-old Emmanuel Farhi, Professor of Economics at Harvard, a native of France with Egyptian Jewish ancestry, "unexpectedly" died a few hours after having a Zoom conference on how economics and economists can help the world (or something like that) with fellow Frenchmen, Nobelist Jean Tirole and former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard.  No one has officially given a cause of death, but the entire internet has decided that it was a suicide, with a long thread with over 800 comments going on the infamous Economics Job Market Rumors (ejmr) about it with scads of speculation about it. On July 29, Claudia Sahm, formerly a Division Chief at Fed Board of Governors and now at Center for Equitable Growth, published a long post on her EconoMom blog called "Economics is a Disaster," in which she singled out what she called his "suicide" as a leading sign of the general "toxicity" of the economics profession, although most of her piece focuses on issues of sexism and racism in the profession, as well as giving bad advice to the public (more on her post below, although I note Fed Chair Jay Powell responded to a question about her blog post when asked by the media, admitting the Fed has had a problem with discrimination and is trying to deal with it).

Many are now saying there is a suicide epidemic in the economics profession, with Alan Krueger and Marty Weitzman (also of Harvard) doing themselves in last year, and Bill Sandholm of U-Wisconsin doing it quite recently. Farhi was a top math student in high school and later in France and many thought he would go into math or physics (which he won a prize for) with some saying he would be alive today if he had gone into one of those fields. But he got an MIT PhD in 2006 and tenure at Harvard by 2010.  He has been a leading mathematical macroeconomic theorist, following some ideas I am sympathetic with, such as agent-based modeling of macroeconomies and considering seriously heterogeneous capital and reconsidering the old Cambridge controversies in the theory of capital.  He has also been involved in some policy analysis and advising, proposing a "social VAT" for France as well as studying proposals for revising the international monetary system. Some claim that as Weitzman was depressed by not winning the Nobel Prize, Farhi may have been so for not getting the John Bates Clark Award for Best Economist Under 40, although he won many awards and was widely praised and respected.

Regarding Claudia Sahm's post I note I have never met her or directly communicated with her, and I am not going to comment in detail on her long post, most of which I either definitely agree with or think looks reasonable.  She recounts personal experiences at the Fed of being mistreated, accounts of mistreatment of RAs and grad students, especially women and minorities.  She also recounts bad or badly given advice by economists. She also names names of quite a few prominent economists she charges with bad behavior of one sort or another, including among others Dick Thaler, Larry Summers, Olivier Blanchard, James Heckman, Harald Uhlig, Lones Smith, and Bill Dudley, along with some who remain anonymous, including an especially unpleasant sounding "tormenter" at the Fed.  I shall make just a few comments on that.

At least one of those she criticizes has engaged in public behavior that is well known and notorious, namely Larry Summers, who is also notoriously arrogant, and some of these the charge of arrogance is a large part of her argument, indeed mostly towards those beneath them, as well as simply to rivals, with it being especially nasty when directed at women or minorities. The views of Summers on women are well known, and she reinforces what has been known. 

I shall defend one of these people, Lones Smith, who is at Wisconsin and whom I know quite well. She makes a vague accusation, no specifics, and none have since been provided near as I can tell in subsequent debates in various places, about mistreating women grad students when he was at Michigan.  I am pretty sure there has been none of that at Wisconsin, and he is personally a very nice guy, unlike several of those other people on her list.  He posts lots of stuff on various media and is known not to necessarily carefully censor himself, so may well say things that annoy people from time to time.  He also got Sahm angry during debates about Harald Uhlig on Twitter.  My observation on that is that I am not on Twitter and every time I hear about something an economist said there it seems to be embarrassing.

I could say more, actually a lot more, but I think this will do for now.  Anyway, although I did not know him (I did know Krueger, Weitzman, and Sandholm) I am sorry that Farhi has died so young, however it happened. RIP to Emmanuel Farhi, and indeed I agree with Sahm that economics and economists have some very serious problems to deal with.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Where to begin, since I have been collecting-documenting anecdotes because they are important  Several years ago, there was Alan Krueger describing colleagues and supposed friends among economists cutting him off after publishing his terrific work on the minimum wage effect.  There is just now the intolerable meanness of:

Harald Uhlig @haralduhlig

Let me politely suggest to replace Paul Krugman with a Black American colleague as columnist @nytimes. Paul had a great run there for more than 20 years. Let's thank him all for what he has done and move on. @paulkrugman: just graciously step down!#ReplaceKrugman

7:53 PM · Jul 22, 2020

Anonymous said...

J. Bradford DeLong‏ @delong

@Noahpinion @profwolff and Stephen Resnick do have a UMass Amherst reputation as mendacious creepazoids…

6:44 AM - 13 Oct 2015

Anonymous said...

April 8, 2010

Hoisted from the Archives: Tyler Cowen Thinks Naomi Klein Believes Her Own Bulls---

He reads her book. He doesn't think it meets minimum intellectual standards. I think he is right: now I can borrow Tyler's ideas and have an informed view.... *


October 4, 2007

-- Brad DeLong

Anonymous said...

September 30, 2009

CORNEL WEST: And as soon as I walked into the office, he starts using profanity about Harvey Mansfield. I said, “No, Harvey Mansfield is conservative, sometimes reactionary, but he’s my dear brother.”

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, so you’re saying Lawrence Summers was using profanity?

CORNEL WEST: Larry Summers using profanity about, you know, “help me ‘F’ so and so up.” No, I don’t function like that. Maybe he thought that just as a black man, I like to use profanity. I’m not a puritan. I don’t use it myself. I have partners who do. But I don’t like people who feel comfortable using it without my permission and not knowing me, you see what I mean? And then from there, it went on and on. “Well, you supported Bill Bradley, didn’t attend classes.” Not true. “Well, you’re deeply into hip-hop, and it’s an embarrassment.”

Anonymous said...

January 3, 2009

Economists Behaving Badly
By Paul Krugman

Ouch. The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog has a post linking to Raghuram Rajan's prophetic 2005 paper ** on the risks posed by securitization...

Two things are really striking here. First is the obsequiousness toward Alan Greenspan.... Second is the extreme condescension toward Rajan — a pretty serious guy — for having the temerity to suggest that maybe markets don't always work to our advantage. Larry Summers, I'm sorry to say, comes off particularly badly....

Anonymous said...

July 29, 2020

Economics is a disgrace
By Claudia Sahm

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.... said...

Farhi's Wikipedia entry now lists his death as due to suicide, so I guess it is official. He was survived by his mother and his partner, Micol. Gita Gopinath of the IMF and formerly his colleague at Harvard said that he was "the Samuelson of our generation."

Anonymous said...

Just very, very sad to learn of his death and a bit disgusted that the railing against the racist, sexist machine happena mostly in posthumous blogs. Lets go mainstream like 'me too'. The losses are piling heart aches.

Unknown said...

it is tragic that such a young man experience such deep penetrating despair, despondency. His pain and inner tortue . . . Dear God release him to peace. He had many, many achievements but no personal calm, no personal joy no personal well being. Love to you eternally Emmanuel

Andres said...

My thanks to Anonymous for keeping track of the numerous incidents where economists have said or written ugly things.

One thing to keep in mind wrt Sahm's long list of abuses by individual members, however, is that we cannot expect economists to be a diverse and inclusionary profession if their unacknowledged role is to defend a political-economic system (aka social formation) that is non-diverse and exclusionary by nature. Making economics a diverse and inclusionary profession is also to make economics a _dissenting_ profession.

To put it more concretely, the unwritten ethical tenets of the Economics 101 textbook are:

1. Self-interest not only can be, but _is_ a force for good.
2. The best way to harness self-interest is by government non-interference; i.e. set out property rights but laissez faire after that.
3. The _ownership_ of physical assets is an active contribution to production that deserves its own income share from that product. (Including slaves? afaik there is no ethical condemnation of slavery in most Econ 101 textbooks, and little discussion of ethics as a whole).

While the first tenet is defensible under certain restrictive assumptions (and that was Adam Smith's position), the second tenet is inoperative under anything but utopian conditions, and the third has always struck me as nonsensical. In fact, adherence to the three tenets creates an ethical discourse that is a borderline defense of psychopathy, provided that the psychopath owns the assets that he is misusing.

Getting back to the profession itself, adherence to these three ethical tenets will attract an above average share of individuals who are jerks at best and bullies at worst (as documented by Sahm), and an above average share of individuals who prefer to act as hired advocates (e.g., _Inside Job_) rather than scientists who put the data first and their own ideological views second. Also not surprising, the AEA had to be dragged kicking into adopting an ethical code, and still prefers to call it a Code of Professional Conduct rather than a code of ethics. But as long as the mainstream profession's ethical outlook is as described above, I doubt a Code of Professional Conduct will make much difference.

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Links to

Economics is a disgrace

Economics is a disgrace ― now more than ever

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Economists can hardly wait for their burial at the Flat-Earth-Cemetery
Comment on Barkley Rosser on ‘Is The Latest Apparent Economist Suicide A Sign "Economics Is A Disaster"?’

“Economics is the study of the economy, not the study of economists.” (Ricardo Reis)

Economists, though, are not very talented scientists (they fail already at elementary macroeconomic algebra#1) and therefore every professional debate turns sooner or later into gossiping about idiosyncratic aches, pains, and neuroses.#2 Thus, academic economics has completely lost its scientific status and has become just another shitshow in the political Circus Maximus.

What economics needs after the obvious failure of Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism, MMT, and Pluralism is a Paradigm Shift. What it gets is another demonstration of economics as a human cesspool.

Claudia Sahm, who mentions as their credentials bipolar disorder and an econ PhD, has recently given a report of the psychological toxicity of economics and its on-duty tormenters.#3

No word about economics as a failed/fake science, though. And that means that she is part of it. #4,#5

Not even at gossiping economists are overwhelmingly smart. Claudia Sahm “names names of quite a few prominent economists she charges with bad behavior of one sort or another.” “At least one of those she criticizes has engaged in public behavior that is well known and notorious, namely Larry Summers, who is also notoriously arrogant, and some of these the charge of arrogance is a large part of her argument, indeed mostly towards those beneath them, as well as simply to rivals, with it being especially nasty when directed at women or minorities.”

However, what is also well-known is that Summers and Epstein were best buddies.#6

I wonder why neither Claudia Sahm, nor Barkley Rosser – the Sherlock Holmes of EconoSpeak, nor anybody else connects the dots that seem to neatly explain the human and scientific rottenness of academic economics.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 Scientific Incompetence: cross-references

#2 Economics as storytelling and entertainment for the masses

#3 Economics is a disgrace (Sahm)

#4 Economics is a disgrace (EKH)

#5 Economics is a disgrace ― now more than ever

#6 Twitter, Michael Krieger

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Barkley Rosser

Where is Barkley Rosser (“He is guilty guilty guuilty”) when you need him?

These are the dots to connect:

• Barkley Rosser mentions Larry Summers “At least one of those she [Claudia Sahm] criticizes has engaged in public behavior that is well known and notorious, namely Larry Summers, who is also notoriously arrogant, and some of these the charge of arrogance is a large part of her argument, indeed mostly towards those beneath them, as well as simply to rivals, with it being especially nasty when directed at women or minorities.”

• Larry Summers, though, is not only known for nasty behavior but for heavy-duty political agenda-pushing “Epstein was convicted in 08. So, how could LHSummers possibly have known something was amiss? Clearly, he was in the dark; like when he scrapped Glass-Steagall, blocked the regulation of derivatives, & lost $1bn for Harvard. Poor Larry, how could he have known?” #1

• The Epstein/Maxwell duo was not only in the sex business but also in the science business.#2

• There are four suicides in academic economics in the wake of Epstein’s suicide.#3

• Claudia Sahm attributes these strange events to the psychological toxicity of economics “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. … Faculty suffer too. [Krueger, Weitzman, Sandholm, Farhi, rest in peace. I am so sorry.]”.

• Barkley Rosser knew Krueger, Weitzman, and Sandholm personally. Not to forget Mark Thoma who retired unexpectedly and abandoned the leading blog Economist’s View.

Strange things happen in economics. Being a lifelong insider, Barkley Rosser maintains that “economics and economists have some very serious problems to deal with.”

Yes, the first and foremost problem is, how could it happen that economics has become scientific fake and fraud from the peer review selection process onwards to the econn Nobel?

Barkley Rosser concludes cryptically “I could say more, actually a lot more, but I think this will do for now.”

What shitshow economics is!

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 MarkGB, Twitter

#2 Amazing Polly, Youtube

#3 Is doing economics really depressing?

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