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Do Economists Lead or Lag? Some Evidence From Citations to the Calculation Debate

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journal contribution
posted on 05.06.2017, 01:35 by Jakee, Keith, Kenneally, Martin
Historians of economic thought have argued for decades over whether the "environment" determines the development and dissemination of economic theories. A related question naturally focuses on whether it should. The issue, known as the "environmental debate", runs to the heart of traditional notions of the scientific process. Do economists, for example, merely supply the answers which are demanded of them? Are our theories limited to explaining phenomena which are largely historical, without having much to offer in the way of elucidating unanticipated events? To take a specific example, should we expect that the degree of academic advocacy for central planning versus free market theories will depend not only on the underlying scientific rigour of the respective models, but also the observed performances of both types of economies, and perhaps even on the political preferences of the observer? The "calculation debate" provides a fascinating example of two competing theories which have purported to explain underlying economic processes and which, in turn, have made predictions about economic outcomes. We examine the relative frequency of citations to two different sets of seminal works: those in support of and those against central planning over a 40 year period as an index of academic support in the debate; we then investigate the sensitivity of the index to academic, political and economic influences. We find citation frequency is independent of these environmental influences. We also perform Granger-causality tests for citation patterns across different journal sets (ie., economics, non-economics, Top-20 economics journals, non-Top-20 economics journals) in an attempt to document intellectual influence between academic groups.


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Department of Economics.

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