Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

In Tandem or out of Sync? Academic Economics Research and Public Policy Measures

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

In Tandem or out of Sync? Academic Economics Research and Public Policy Measures

Article excerpt

This paper investigates whether academic research attention to certain policy-related measures (including gross domestic product, unemployment, and inflation) is correlated with empirical measurements of the measures themselves. In other words, when unemployment rises, does research attention to the matter increase? Or do economists pursue research (in the short run) relatively uninfluenced by policy shocks on the ground? Text analysis implies that economic attention to key policy terms does correlate with empirical movements of the terms in most instances; however, the stronger and more consistent correlation is between use of policy terms in the literature and discussion of them by the broader public. (JEL All, H00)


Is economics research, as represented by publications in the top general interest journals in the field, correlated in the short run with public policy concerns? When the 2007 recession and associated economic crises hit, was there any significant change in research attention to "gross domestic product" ("GDP"), "unemployment," "inflation," or "bankruptcy"? Similarly, as societal concerns related to broad policy issues such as acid rain, social security, or health care reform waxed and waned, did the attention of economics researchers to these topics follow similar paths?

This paper employs methodological techniques related to text analysis in order to investigate the relationship between academic research attention and measures of public policy concerns as they change over time. It assumes that at least one goal of economics research is indeed to address public policy. Other goals have of course been offered, including the development of sound theoretical models, the satisfaction of pure intellectual curiosity, and the approval of one's peers and prestige at one's job. Not every researcher cares about each of these goals equally, or even all of them at any particular time, but most would agree that at least one broad goal of economics research is to speak to public policy concerns. This paper explores the short-run relationship between contemporary policy issues and economics research attention, at least in the top general interest journals in the field.

A demand and supply-based theoretical model is assumed, where events on the ground affect the demand for policy-based academic research. The question is whether or not the supply of academic research is elastic enough to respond in any significant way in the short run when such demand shifts. The supply of academic research is assumed to be relatively inelastic due to lags involved in funding opportunities, preference immobilities of researchers themselves, slow professional turnover at most departments, and a host of other factors. But given the fact that economists profess to care about the relevance of their research, one could assume that there would be attempts to respond to public policy concerns, at least in a limited way. Perhaps increased research attention to contemporary policy issues can only make its way into the conclusions sections or welfare analyses of broader research papers, but it would be surprising if the context of the real world failed to filter into the research attention of academic papers, at least somewhat. Most people are behaviorally responsive to the environment around them, and economists are no exception. Does their attention to public policy concerns correlate in any way with short-run changes in the measures themselves? It is important to emphasize that this paper is not about the impact of economics research, per se, than it is much more simply about the attention economists devote to nonstationary public policy concerns.

The data for the analysis involve all full-length monographs published in seven top journals in the field of economics from 1960 to 2010. The corpus of these texts are investigated for trends in terms related to key policy measurements such as "GDP," "unemployment," "inflation," and "bankruptcy. …

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