The Economist has just published a list of ten names of young economists who, according to “leading authorities”, represent the future of the discipline It does so every ten years and prides itself on singling out Paul Krugman twenty years ago and Steven Levitt ten years ago.
But is there any interest in reading such article beyond the “who’s who and who’s doing what” we perform as members of the profession, any relevant feature for the historian?
By naming what they see as the most “promising” young economists, the profession attempts to redefine itself and to build a suitable historical canons for that purpose (with the limit that we can’t separate the economists’ words from the journalists’). Interesting features of the paper include the insistance on the use of data, the wit in their use and the ability to reach counterintuitive results as the major criterion for scientific brightness, the focus field and experimental research rather that theoretical work and the defintion of economics by its empirical character rather than its subject matter or method; the end of macro, the emergence of “granular” thinking and the generalisation of the micro-behavioral-problem solving approach; the “medical” analogy (or at least reference, although it is unclear whether it stem from economists themselves or journalists); Frank Ramsey as the hero of this generation (and an excellent prospect for Pedro); the golden age of development economics, and the nascent public exposition of economists through blogs (and the associated willingness how sexy and fun economic research is?)
I wonder whether such exercice reflect or influence the shape of economics, but also how it might inform our historical outlook on it. For such building of a future is not only an interesting historical object in itself. It challenges our tendancy to write the history of general equilibrium, monetary economics, macroeconomics, e.g. big bodies and let subfields such as development economics underresearched, to focus on Chicago and Cowles while Harvard and MIT appear as leading places, it requires an understanding of the reasons why the heros, the advertising strategy evolve.