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The Fed economists

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A link to this Ryan Grim story at the Huffington Post was provided in the comments section yesterday by Idaho Spud and, since it's been popping up all over the place since then, it seemed like a good idea to send a bit more traffic their way since it really is a masterpiece - a fine example of how the "alternative" media is sometimes way ahead of the mainstream media.

Priceless: How The Federal Reserve Bought The Economics Profession

The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.

This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed's thrall, the economists missed it, too.

"The Fed has a lock on the economics world," says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. "There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong."
This is a long and detailed look at a profession that has been criticized often here in these pages over the years and it goes a long way in explaining why we're currently in such a mess.

Well worth the time to read in its entirety, below are a few excerpts that struck me as being particularly damning.
One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field's gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll -- and the rest have been in the past.
The Federal Reserve's Board of Governors employs 220 PhD economists and a host of researchers and support staff, according to a Fed spokeswoman. The 12 regional banks employ scores more. (HuffPost placed calls to them but was unable to get exact numbers.) The Fed also doles out millions of dollars in contracts to economists for consulting assignments, papers, presentations, workshops, and that plum gig known as a "visiting scholarship." A Fed spokeswoman says that exact figures for the number of economists contracted with weren't available. But, she says, the Federal Reserve spent $389.2 million in 2008 on "monetary and economic policy," money spent on analysis, research, data gathering, and studies on market structure; $433 million is budgeted for 2009.

That's a lot of money for a relatively small number of economists.
The Fed keeps many of the influential editors of prominent academic journals on its payroll. It is common for a journal editor to review submissions dealing with Fed policy while also taking the bank's money. A HuffPost review of seven top journals found that 84 of the 190 editorial board members were affiliated with the Federal Reserve in one way or another.

"Try to publish an article critical of the Fed with an editor who works for the Fed," says Galbraith. And the journals, in turn, determine which economists get tenure and what ideas are considered respectable.

The pharmaceutical industry has similarly worked to control key medical journals, but that involves several companies. In the field of economics, it's just the Fed.
Publishing in top journals is, like in any discipline, the key to getting tenure. Indeed, pursuing tenure ironically requires a kind of fealty to the dominant economic ideology that is the precise opposite of the purpose of tenure, which is to protect academics who present oppositional perspectives.

And while most academic disciplines and top-tier journals are controlled by some defining paradigm, in an academic field like poetry, that situation can do no harm other than to, perhaps, a forest of trees. Economics, unfortunately, collides with reality -- as it did with the Fed's incorrect reading of the housing bubble and failure to regulate financial institutions. Neither was a matter of incompetence, but both resulted from the Fed's unchallenged assumptions about the way the market worked.
The Huffington Post reviewed the mastheads of the American Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Literature, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Monetary Economics.

HuffPost interns Googled around looking for resumes and otherwise searched for Fed connections for the 190 people on those mastheads. Of the 84 that were affiliated with the Federal Reserve at one point in their careers, 21 were on the Fed payroll even as they served as gatekeepers at prominent journals.
At the Journal of Monetary Economics, every single member of the editorial board is or has been affiliated with the Fed and 14 of the 26 board members are presently on the Fed payroll.
The stories about Alan Blinder and Paul Krugman are particularly telling and, never having worked in academia, it's difficult to appreciate how pervasive the Fed's influence might be for those looking to advance their careers.

It does go a long way, however, in explaining why you hear such little criticism of the central bank from most mainstream economists.

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Anonymous said...

Most domestic economic research is funded by the Fed (with purchasing power confiscated from hapless consumers). They tend to fund self serving research. That is, you won't find the Fed funding much research showing how the nation would be better off without it.

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