Monday, January 9, 2012

Making an ASSA out of U and ME

The 2012 ASSA meetings have come and gone, and I guess I’ll have to add my reactions to the heap already beginning to accumulate in the blogosphere.

Kudos—really!—to the AEA for its new ethics policy.  Using the publication lever is exactly right, in my opinion, and I hope the disclosure requirements are copied by non-AEA journals.

My worst experience—nothing else comes close—was attending a panel of economics bloggers.  Actually, it began well with an interesting, thoughtful and directly useful presentation by Jennifer Imazeki of Economics for Teachers.  I urge everyone who teaches this stuff at any level to check out her work.  After that it was pretty dismal.  None of the other panelists seem to have thought seriously about the practical issues involved in integrating blogs and teaching.  There was little reflection on the issue of boundary-busting, that entering the blogosphere means sharing intellectual space with people coming from different academic/cognitive/experiential backgrounds.  Quit the opposite: the other panelists (Alex Tabarrock, Jodi Beggs and especially Steve Leavitt) argued that the mission of economics bloggers should be to systematically push the viewpoint of incentives and markets because that’s what econ has to offer.  There was an amusing moment in which Leavitt, noting the disconnect between the arguments economists make on the web when they discuss current issues and the parade of models in the textbooks, considered the possibility that the textbooks might be irrelevant.  That moment lasted no more than ten seconds; he dismissed the heresy and recommended that teachers spend more time on the textbooks and less on the blogs.

I congratulate myself for not getting cranky.  I made a comment which was intended to be entirely constructive.  One point was that none of the panelists had mentioned Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View, which is an essential aggregator.  I considered mentioning that one of the virtues of Mark’s site is that he links to noneconomists that economists ought to be interested in, like Andrew Gelman, the Bayesian statistician, but decided not to in order to spare the feelings of Leavitt.

As usual, however, the real action was in the hallways and over dinner.  I got more gossip about the inner workings of the Bank and the Fund than I can hope to remember, and I met lots of actual human beings corresponding to the names I recognized from books, papers and blog posts.  One standout was a fascinating conversation with a prominent economist, who will go unnamed, who has knocked himself out to inject some rationality and honesty into policy debates and who now appears to have largely given up.  His discouragement was hard to argue with—but there were hordes of young, proto-rabble-rousers at many of the sessions and receptions I attended that left me with the feeling that a significant energy recharge is taking place in the world of dissident economics.

Incidentally, Europe is really not looking good, and a Europe/US financial decoupling is absolutely impossible.  2012 augurs to be a wonderful year for bloggers, if not for humans.


Noah Smith said...

I was interviewing, so I couldn't make it to that panel, but I heard a crazy undergrad hijacked the whole thing with angry rants!!

Peter Dorman said...

Sort of, but she was sitting in the front row with her back to the rest of us, and I couldn't hear what her problem was. The moderator cut her off. Actually, I'm curious about what went on, and if anyone else reading this was able to take it in, please let us know.

Jennifer Imazeki said...

First, thanks for the kind words, Peter! About that undergrad, it was very odd. What you couldn't see is that throughout the whole session, she was fidgeting a lot, shaking her hands, etc. (I honestly wondered if she had a physical or mental problem, like maybe Tourette's). When she first started talking, her comments were a bit odd (she went on a bit of a tirade about how blogs are inferior to other social media because they are chronological) and then when Gail cut her off, she said something along the lines of, "Well, can I be assured that I will be given the right to exercise my freedom of speech and finish my comments?" and just didn't want to let it go. At the end of the session, I'm not sure if people could hear her protesting that she didn't get a chance to talk again but when Gail went down to talk to her, it was clear that she just didn't understand how these conference sessions work - she wanted to know why we (the panelists) got to talk for so long but she was getting cut off! I'm glad those behind her couldn't hear her - it was really just very odd...