Frontiers of economic research

Samuel Bowles, Wendy Carlin, 20 March 2020

In the shadow of the Great Depression, Paul Samuelson placed the “really interesting and vital problems of overall economic policy” – notably persistent unemployment – at the front of his introductory text. What future citizens learned from their economics courses was transformed by the new knowledge – Keynesian economics – applied to the new problems. This column asks whether we are now at a similar juncture. Using topic modelling, it finds that the novel themes in published research in recent decades – concepts that empower economists to address today’s major challenges of climate change, inequality, and the future of work and of property rights in the knowledge-based economy – are strikingly absent from today’s leading textbooks.

Bartosz Maćkowiak, Mirko Wiederholt, 19 March 2020

Economists may not have been able to do much about the outbreak of the coronavirus, but this column argues that economics can help tackle the problem at its source by reducing the spread of the virus. Using a theory of decision-making by agents who have limited information-processing ability, it offers various recommendations for individuals and policymakers to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Shelly Lundberg, 05 March 2020

Women are substantially underrepresented in the field of economics. This column introduces a new Vox eBook in which leading experts on the issue of gender in economics examine the role and progress of women in professional economics, review the barriers women face at various stages of the training and promotional pipeline, evaluate programmes designed to support and encourage female economists, and discuss the benefits of greater gender equality across economics research professions. 

Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan, Katherine Eriksson, James J Feigenbaum, Santiago Pérez, 14 February 2020

A number of vital questions in the social sciences, relating to intergenerational mobility or assimilation of migrants for example, require data that follow individuals over time. The recent digitisation of historical population censuses for the US and other countries has increased their availability, but linking such historical data is challenging. This column compares the performance of various linking methods and concludes that automated methods perform no worse on key dimensions than (more expensive) hand linking using standard linking variables.

Theodoros Rapanos, Marc Sommer, Yves Zenou, 06 February 2020

Information and social norms matter in people’s decisions whether to commit crimes. Strategic interactions in networks influence the gap between the actual and perceived risks and costs of being caught. The column sets out a game framework in which the expectations of potential criminals are influenced by their peers. Surprisingly, severing these information links – even between relatively active offenders – does not necessarily lead to a decrease in the aggregate level of crime.

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