Leading Economists Comment on the AEA’s Draft Code of Professional Conduct

(On January 17, 2018, Peter L. Rousseau, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Economic Association asked AEA member for comments on the code of professional conduct as drafted by an AEA Ad Hoc Committee. The draft Code of Professional Conduct is available here:

The ad hoc committee’s interim report is available here: https://www.aeaweb.org/resources/member-docs/code-of-conduct-interim-report

The comment period closed on March 15; 211 comments were received)

Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Michael Reich, University of California Berkeley, and Eileen Appelbaum, Center for Economic and Policy Research offered the following comment:
The Draft Code of Professional Conduct is seriously incomplete. It offers no method for the AEA to update the code or ensure that it is being followed. Nor does it make any provision to have allegations of noncompliance investigated and resolved by appropriate enforcement actions. To say that “the AEA strives to promote these principles through its activities” is a lovely statement of intent, but a thorough review of AEA activities is called for to assess whether the AEA is in fact creating an environment for “the perfect freedom of economic expression.” And then the review must be followed up with specific actions.

We note that the Interim Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Consider a Code of Professional Conduct notes the many problems in the profession that were reported to them and suggests a number of steps that could be taken to ensure that the profession and the AEA do in fact work to improve the climate in the profession.

We suggest the AEA accept the additional proposals contained in the report and establish a standing committee on the Code of Conduct and task it with:  1) assessing how well the AEA and the profession generally are living up to the code of conduct, 2) monitoring and encouraging progress, and 3) making annual reports, containing recommendations for further action when needed, to the AEA and the membership for how further improvements can be made.  These annual reports should be widely shared with department chairs and deans, large employers of economists, and relevant public agencies. Finally, the committee should be charged with 4) investigating complaints of violations of the Code of Ethics, sanctioning violators, and otherwise enforcing the code of conduct throughout the profession.

While the Ad Hoc Committee explained its choice of a parsimonious code, it also noted a more complete code would require more time, a committee devoted to the effort, and resources to solicit feedback from the members. We suggest that the committee be provided with an adequate budget and staffing to carry out a comprehensive, ongoing effort to expand the code of ethics to deal with issues such as harassment, particularly harassment that occurs at AEA sponsored events, and to reform the culture of discourse and hostile treatment of diverse ideas and diverse people within the field.

Neither the draft code of conduct nor the Interim Report notes the importance of creating an environment where diverse ideas as well as diverse economists are welcomed. For example, in discussing the diversity of the Executive Committee and Officers, the Interim Report suggests that the range of departments, colleges, and careers be considered as dimensions of diversity.  Diversity of schools of thought within economics is also important and should be included and indeed welcomed. For another example, when discussing best practices for addressing bias, the interim report fails to mention bias against economic ideas that are outside the mainstream.  Finally, in addition to considering and spreading best practices for avoiding bias, the committee should be charged with reviewing and assessing best practices for enforcement methods among those used by other professional associations.

At the same time, Mr. Rousseau announced that the AEA decided to create a website/message board designed to provide additional information and transparency to the job market for new PhDs. This is planned to be operational in time for the 2018-19 job market cycle.

These action was taken by the AEA in response to a petition signed by more than 1100 economists (initiated by Michael Reich and Heidi Hartmann) asking the AEA to produce job market information that would surpass what is currently offered by the EJMR (Economic Job Market Rumors), which powerful research by Alice Wu shows is misogynistic as well as racist in the language used to describe job market candidates.

For more on the EJMR controversy and the overwhelming response that also led to the draft code of conduct, please check out the Bloomberg Benchmark episode on the topic that interviews IWPR’s Heidi Hartmann.