by Mario Rizzo
In a recent article in Time magazine Michael Kinsley implies that no “prominent” economist has come out against economic stimulus as a (partial?) solution to the current mess. My interest here is not whether this true but in what constitutes “prominent.” I know many economists who do not agree with the dominant policy thinking on stimulus. But I guess they are not “prominent.” Now, coincidentally Greg Mankiw has posted a partly humorous formula that determines the value or impact of an economist. (I also saw this at The Austrian Economists.) Let’s call this the prominence formula. The prominence of an economist is positively related to the number of citations per original article he has written. Articles that are not original will decrease one’s prominence as well as citations that criticize one’s work. There are also other variables involved.
So the prominence of an economist depends on judgments about the originality of his work and the degree to which other economists think it is relevant to their own work. In the former case judgments about originality presumably also depend on the opinions of other economists.
Now why would an economist bother to cite another economist? Presumably because he believes that the average opinion of the economists is that the latter’s work is important. Why might they believe it is important? Presumably because they believe it is both on-point and original (no good citing a derivative work). Or at least this is what the first economist believes is the average opinion of other economists.
If we believe in the fundamental rationality of the community of economists this is unproblematic. But if economists are subject to herding behavior, informational cascades or behavioral biases things might get interesting. Any thoughts?