Continuing Education

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PHILADELPHIA — The annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Association is many things.  (The ASSA is a collection of some sixty organizations, of which the American Economic Association is by far the biggest. The American Finance Association is second.)   It’s a job fair, a ceremonial pageant, a swift channel into print for late-breaking work by a fortunate few dozen researchers, a public relations event, and a continuing education opportunity for most of the twelve thousand or so professors, policy economists and other members who registered this year.  (Not all of them made it through the snow!)

The PR event this year surely had to do with the hundredth anniversary last month of the founding of the Federal Reserve System. Many session were devoted to the Fed’s role in the economy, including one that featured presidents of four regional banks – William Dudley of New York, Charles Plosser of Philadelphia, Eric Rosengren of Boston, and Narayana Kocherlakota of Minneapolis (who was snowed in) talking about the combination of decentralization and consensus-seeking central guidance that is the system’s most distinctive feature

Ben Bernanke, retiring this month after eight years as chairman, received an unprecedented standing ovation after a talk to an audience of some two thousand economists – a sign of the growing recognition that strong leadership from the Fed (not just its governors and bank presidents but its senior staff) staved off a concatenation of events that might have dwarfed the Great Depression

President-elect William Nordhaus, of Yale University organized the meetings; in-coming president-elect Richard Thaler, of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business,  will preside over next year’s meetings, in Boston.  Raj Chetty, of Harvard University, received the John Bates Clark Medal, now given annually to the most influential economist under forty.

Claudia Goldin, of Harvard University, delivered the AEA presidential address (“A Grand Gender Convergence”).  James Heckman, of the University of Chicago, gave the Econometric Society presidential address (“The Economics of Human Development”).  Jeremy Stein, a governor of the Federal Reserve Board gave the joint AEA/AFA lecture.  James Poterba, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave the Ely lecture (“Retirement Security in an Aging Population”).  MaPaul Milgrom, of Stanford University, and Roger Myerson, of the University of Chicago, spoke at a luncheon honoring Lloyd Shapley, of the University of California at Los Angeles, and Alvin Roth, of Stanford University,  last year’s winners of the Nobel Prize.

Four Distinguished Fellows were named, a kind of consolation prizes for those unlikely to become the association’s president: theorist Harold Demsetz, of the University of California at Los Angeles; central banker Stanley Fischer, expected to be nominated soon to be vice chair of the Fed; econometrician Jerry Hausman, of MIT; and regulatory economist Paul Joskow, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation..

Interviews of the most recent crop of graduates to enter the job market will yield invitations to many to visit campuses to talks; some will eventually receive offers. Outcomes of this race to the beginning of the course won’t come clear until April. What’s striking is how much time and effort department members spend in choosing next year’s junior colleagues.

The new material presented in around twenty privileged sessions designated by the president will appear in May, in the “Papers and Proceedings” number of the American Economic Review. The AER this month increased its frequency to monthly (up from five issues a year in 2010), reflecting a dramatic increase that has occurred over the last quarter century in the breadth , depth and relevance of the discipline.

And the continuing education, my own and others?  Watch this space.