Is There an Obvious Free Market Bias in Economics Journals?

Josh Wright —  8 February 2011

So Paul Krugman asserts:

I can well imagine that it’s hard to be a conservative in some social sciences, but in economics, the obvious bias in things like acceptance of papers at major journals is towards, not against, a doctrinaire free-market view.

I doubt it.  That is testable, I suppose; so long as one can find a workable definition of “doctrinaire free-market view.”  But that’s besides the point.   Anyway, I suspect Krugman is wrong.  This is a subject — that is, bias for or against free-market outcomes in economics — I’ve written about before at TOTM.

For example, there was this NY Times column on the free market orthodoxy in modern economics departments.  I think Alex Tabarrok had it right when he responded to that column:

It beggars belief when economists at Princeton, Harvard and Berkeley claim that they are lone voices in the wilderness boldly striking heterodox positions against the hegemony of “free market economics.”

David Card, for example, says “You lose your ticket as a certified economist if you dont say any kind of price regulation is bad and free trade is good.”  Really? Card and Krueger’s famous paper on the minimum wage was a 1993 NBER working paper published in the AER in 1994. What happened then in 1995? Was Card decertified, drummed out of the profession, vilified by his peers? Hardly, in 1995 David Card was honored (deservedly imho) by the American Economic Association with the John Bates Clark medal.

As I wrote here, I also suspect that the law and economics (behavioral law and economics, anyone?) and industrial organization branches of the economics world that I am most familiar with do not exhibit the sort of free-market bias Krugman asserts.   If anything, I suspect that publication at major journals cuts the other way in antitrust / IO publications as well.   I don’t know if anybody has done any serious empirical work on this — but if so, please point it out in the comments.

7 responses to Is There an Obvious Free Market Bias in Economics Journals?

  1. 
    Christian Bjoernskov 17 February 2011 at 5:48 am

    Josh seems to be right in his assessment of behavioural economics. At the upcoming meeting of the Public Choice Society, Niclas Berggren of the Ratio Institute in Stockholm is going to present a paper on exactly this topic. What Niclas shows is that papers on BE published in the top economics journals are strongly biased towards interventionist policies and almost none of them apply behavioural assumption to politicians, only consumers. The paper is online at http://www.pubchoicesoc.org/ and well worth reading.

    • 

      Christian,
      Thanks for the tip on the article. The result, I think, is expected; but its nice to see it demonstrated and looks like a quite interesting piece. My own take, FWIW, is that the real issue is the political economy not of the BE literature itself, but the behavioral LAW and economics (BLE) literature. I suspect that a much higher fraction (nearly 100 percent) of those articles invoking BE scholarship contain policy recommendations — and I suspect the percentage that favor intervention is just as high.

  2. 

    The term “bias” is misused by Krugman. Suppose engineers favor lighter versus heavier materials in building skyscrapers. Would this be a bias? Only if they did so without a good reason. Taking a certain stance in economics need not be a bias by any means. It can be well grounded, supported by research and analysis. All of the practical disciplines involve selectivity–e.g., in medicine safer and more effective drugs are selected over other ones. Again, only if the reason for this is unjustified would that amount to a bias. So when Kgurman advocates the injection of more stimuli into the economy this, too, need not amount to a Keynesian bias unless it is done thoughtlessly. What Krugman is doing in labeling the free market stance a bias is begging the question, a serious logical fallacy. And distorting the meaning of terms to serve his own ideological position.

  3. 

    What Krugman refers to as the “doctrinaire free-market view” is probably broader in range to that understood by a libertarian. It is true, for example, that only one or two articles listed by the AER as their top 20 were Keynesian (if even that). So, journals are definitely not pro-markets to the degree that most “real” pro-markets economists would like, but they also tend to stay away from hardline “anti-market” (not really anti-market, but I couldn’t think of a better term) papers, as well.

  4. 
    Mauro Mello Jr. 8 February 2011 at 2:43 pm

    There may be some ideas in a posting by David Henderson (at Library of Economics and Liberty) where he comments on an article in the January 2011 issue of Econ Journal Watch, titled, “The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010″, which investigates how biased the academic debate is based on where articles are published.

    Henderson’s blog article is at http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/01/david_gordon_ha.html and the Econ Watch article is at http://econjwatch.org/articles/the-ideological-profile-of-harvard-university-press-categorizing-494-books-published-2000-2010.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Some Links | Daily Libertarian - February 16, 2011

    […] Josh Wright questions Paul Krugman’s assertion that there is a bias toward “a doctrinair….  Unless understanding that trade-offs are prevalent makes someone a doctrinaire free-marketer, my sense of the contents of major economics journals squares with Josh’s. […]

  2. Some Links - February 16, 2011

    […] Josh Wright questions Paul Krugman’s assertion that there is a bias toward “a doctrinair….  Unless understanding that trade-offs are prevalent makes someone a doctrinaire free-marketer, my sense of the contents of major economics journals squares with Josh’s. […]