Bridge over ocean
1 July 2015 CFA Institute Journal Review

The Superiority of Economists (Digest Summary)

  1. Paul Lebo

Empirical evidence supports the argument that economists believe their field is superior to other social sciences. With this awareness, the authors explore the origins of this superiority complex. They also explain the ramifications of economists’ perceived preeminence on both interdisciplinary work and society at large.

What’s Inside?

The authors examine the perceived pecking order in the social sciences and cite empirical studies that show how economists view themselves as the dominant players. They then offer several potential reasons for this perception, including the fact that economics is more male-dominated and quantitative than its social science peers. With this perceived superiority, the opportunity for interdisciplinary work declines because economists prefer to be more inwardly focused while social scientists from other disciplines are less inclined to work with economists. Finally, in a broader sense, the authors ponder the impact of this phenomenon on society given that economists arguably are perceived to sit in an ivory tower and may not adequately identify with the plights of the common person.

How Is This Research Useful to Practitioners?

Economics is at the crossroads of government and finance, and its policy prescriptions have a central impact on the well-being of any populace. The recent Great Recession showed the impact of economics from both a causal standpoint and a reactionary angle. From the causal point of view, many argue that poor economic policies, including deregulation and loose monetary policy, led to the real estate bubble and the inherent riskiness of the financial institutions leading up to the Great Recession. At the same time, from a reactionary standpoint, many in financial circles would argue that the combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus served to bring the global economy back on solid footing. In a sense, economists at the Fed and in the executive branch of the government were likely responsible for confining the Great Recession to a recession and not another depression.

As such, the importance of economics to society cannot be understated. Through their insightful analysis of the field of economics, the authors uncover seemingly pronounced biases of economists relative to those in the other social sciences. By understanding these potential biases, economists and other social scientists can work to overcome this obstacle to increase collaboration.

How Did the Authors Conduct This Research?

The authors provide a number of figures and research studies in support of their findings. Quite compelling is evidence that shows by discipline the agreement or disagreement with the following proposition: “In general, interdisciplinary knowledge is better than knowledge obtained by a single discipline.” The authors demonstrate that professors in the field of economics are more likely to disagree with this statement, unlike those in other social science disciplines. In fact, only 42.1% of economics professors agreed with the statement compared with assent rates of 72.9%, 59.8%, 78.7%, and 86.6% for the fields of sociology, political science, psychology, and finance, respectively.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

The authors provide a thought-provoking piece on a subject of high importance to not just academics and business but also to society as a whole. Evidence is provided to support their conclusions, yet the article is surprisingly lacking in any counter-arguments. To strengthen the piece, the authors should consider producing a follow-up article to articulate counter-arguments and seek to invalidate them with additional evidence. The article would also benefit from a listing of concrete action items that could be taken by the field of economics to change its perception not just in academic circles but in general society as well.

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