Inequality and the Economists Rankings

Federico Fubini writes,

Mobility in the RePEc rankings remains subdued even after widening the sample. For example, of the top 100 economists in September 2015, only 14 were absent from the much wider top 5% in 2006, and only two others had advanced more than 200 spots over the previous decade. Among those recently ranked from 101 to 200, just 24 were not in the top 5% in 2006, and only ten others had moved up by more than 200 places. The rate of renewal among the 200 most influential economists was as low as 25% – and just 16% among the top 100 – during a decade in which the explanatory power of prevailing economic theory had been found severely wanting.

What is remarkable about this is the difference between the pace of change in the ranking of economists and in the economy itself. Entry barriers among the world’s ten richest people and ten most valuable companies seem to be far lower than among the top ten economists. According to Forbes, only two of the ten wealthiest individuals in 2015 (Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) were in the top ten in 2006. And just three companies – ExxonMobil, General Electric, and Microsoft – made the top ten in terms of market capitalization in both 2006 and 2015.

In the rankings of economists, by contrast, criteria such as gender or geographic origin confirm the overall inertia. Only four women made the RePEc top 200 in September 2015, compared to three in December 2006, and two were included on both lists. Likewise, emerging countries – which represent more than 90% of the world’s population, three-quarters of global GDP growth over the last decade, and nearly half of total income in current dollar terms – supplied just 11 of the top 200 economists in September 2015, up from ten in December 2006. And ten of those 11 – three Iranians, four Indians, two Turks, and one Chinese – have lived and worked in the US or the United Kingdom since their student days.

The rest of the RePEC top 200 tend to be Caucasian men in their 60s and older – roughly three decades past the age when an economic or scientific author is generally most innovative, according to research by the economist Benjamin Jones. No black person, American or otherwise, is in the top 200.


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