Monday , September 21 2020
Home / EconoSpeak / Is The Latest Apparent Economist Suicide A Sign “Economics Is A Disaster”?

Is The Latest Apparent Economist Suicide A Sign “Economics Is A Disaster”?

Summary:
On July 23, 41-year-old Emmanuel Farhi, Professor of Economics at Harvard, a native of France with Egyptian Jewish ancestry, "unexpectedly" died a few hours after having a Zoom conference on how economics and economists can help the world (or something like that) with fellow Frenchmen, Nobelist Jean Tirole and former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard.  No one has officially given a cause of death, but the entire internet has decided that it was a suicide, with a long thread with over 800 comments going on the infamous Economics Job Market Rumors (ejmr) about it with scads of speculation about it. On July 29, Claudia Sahm, formerly a Division Chief at Fed Board of Governors and now at Center for Equitable Growth, published a long post on her EconoMom blog called "Economics is a

Topics:
[email protected] considers the following as important:

This could be interesting, too:

Lars Syll writes Expected utility theory — an ex-parrot

Mike Norman writes TikTok, Sing a Song of Sixpence, A pocket Full of Rye, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in an American Pie — M. K. Bhadrakumar

Mike Norman writes Moon of Alabama — NYT First Reinforces, Then Silently Debunks Its False Claims About Russia’s Covid-19 Vaccine

Mike Norman writes The Fiscal Folk Theorem — Brian Romanchuk

On July 23, 41-year-old Emmanuel Farhi, Professor of Economics at Harvard, a native of France with Egyptian Jewish ancestry, "unexpectedly" died a few hours after having a Zoom conference on how economics and economists can help the world (or something like that) with fellow Frenchmen, Nobelist Jean Tirole and former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard.  No one has officially given a cause of death, but the entire internet has decided that it was a suicide, with a long thread with over 800 comments going on the infamous Economics Job Market Rumors (ejmr) about it with scads of speculation about it. On July 29, Claudia Sahm, formerly a Division Chief at Fed Board of Governors and now at Center for Equitable Growth, published a long post on her EconoMom blog called "Economics is a Disaster," in which she singled out what she called his "suicide" as a leading sign of the general "toxicity" of the economics profession, although most of her piece focuses on issues of sexism and racism in the profession, as well as giving bad advice to the public (more on her post below, although I note Fed Chair Jay Powell responded to a question about her blog post when asked by the media, admitting the Fed has had a problem with discrimination and is trying to deal with it).

Many are now saying there is a suicide epidemic in the economics profession, with Alan Krueger and Marty Weitzman (also of Harvard) doing themselves in last year, and Bill Sandholm of U-Wisconsin doing it quite recently. Farhi was a top math student in high school and later in France and many thought he would go into math or physics (which he won a prize for) with some saying he would be alive today if he had gone into one of those fields. But he got an MIT PhD in 2006 and tenure at Harvard by 2010.  He has been a leading mathematical macroeconomic theorist, following some ideas I am sympathetic with, such as agent-based modeling of macroeconomies and considering seriously heterogeneous capital and reconsidering the old Cambridge controversies in the theory of capital.  He has also been involved in some policy analysis and advising, proposing a "social VAT" for France as well as studying proposals for revising the international monetary system. Some claim that as Weitzman was depressed by not winning the Nobel Prize, Farhi may have been so for not getting the John Bates Clark Award for Best Economist Under 40, although he won many awards and was widely praised and respected.

Regarding Claudia Sahm's post I note I have never met her or directly communicated with her, and I am not going to comment in detail on her long post, most of which I either definitely agree with or think looks reasonable.  She recounts personal experiences at the Fed of being mistreated, accounts of mistreatment of RAs and grad students, especially women and minorities.  She also recounts bad or badly given advice by economists. She also names names of quite a few prominent economists she charges with bad behavior of one sort or another, including among others Dick Thaler, Larry Summers, Olivier Blanchard, James Heckman, Harald Uhlig, Lones Smith, and Bill Dudley, along with some who remain anonymous, including an especially unpleasant sounding "tormenter" at the Fed.  I shall make just a few comments on that.

At least one of those she criticizes has engaged in public behavior that is well known and notorious, namely Larry Summers, who is also notoriously arrogant, and some of these the charge of arrogance is a large part of her argument, indeed mostly towards those beneath them, as well as simply to rivals, with it being especially nasty when directed at women or minorities. The views of Summers on women are well known, and she reinforces what has been known. 

I shall defend one of these people, Lones Smith, who is at Wisconsin and whom I know quite well. She makes a vague accusation, no specifics, and none have since been provided near as I can tell in subsequent debates in various places, about mistreating women grad students when he was at Michigan.  I am pretty sure there has been none of that at Wisconsin, and he is personally a very nice guy, unlike several of those other people on her list.  He posts lots of stuff on various media and is known not to necessarily carefully censor himself, so may well say things that annoy people from time to time.  He also got Sahm angry during debates about Harald Uhlig on Twitter.  My observation on that is that I am not on Twitter and every time I hear about something an economist said there it seems to be embarrassing.

I could say more, actually a lot more, but I think this will do for now.  Anyway, although I did not know him (I did know Krueger, Weitzman, and Sandholm) I am sorry that Farhi has died so young, however it happened. RIP to Emmanuel Farhi, and indeed I agree with Sahm that economics and economists have some very serious problems to deal with.

Barkley Rosser

rosserjb@jmu.edu
I remember how loud it was. I was a young Economics undergraduate, and most professors didn’t really slam points home the way Dr. Rosser did. He would bang on the table and throw things around the classroom. Not for the faint of heart, but he definitely kept my attention and made me smile. It is hard to not smile around J. Barkley Rosser, especially when he gets going on economic theory. The passion comes through and encourages you to come along with it in a truly contagious way. After meeting him, it is as if you can just tell that anybody who knows that much and has that much to say deserves your attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *