Continuing Conversation... Luigi Zingales on Incentives and the Potential Capture of Economists by Special Interests

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Luigi Zingales on Incentives a... Robert Solow on Growth and the...

This week, Russ Roberts welcomed back University of Chicago's Luigi Zingales to talk about a recent essay in which Zingales argues that economists are subject to many of the same sorts of biases as regulators because of the incentives they face.

And now we want to hear from you. Use the following questions to reflect on this episode, assign them to students in your class, use them to strike up conversation at your next social gathering. No matter how, we love to hear from you.


Check Your Knowledge:

1. What is "regulatory capture," and how can academic economists be similarly "captured," even when they're not the ones regulating?

Going Deeper:

2. How does the academic publishing process in economics contribute to the situation described in the previous question, according to Zingales? To what extent do you think this is equally true in other disciplines? Explain.

3. Zingales offers three suggestions for fighting against bias in economic research. What are his suggestions? How would you evaluate the potential effectiveness of each one?

Extra Credit:

4. About halfway through the episode, Roberts says he wants to look at himself in the mirror to examine the extent of his own bias. Revisit some of the episodes from this summer he is referring to (such as Sam Altman, Marc Andreessen, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, and Nathan Blecharczyk). Do you think Roberts' interviews were characterized by too much admiration? Explain. To what extent does that matter? How do you think Zingales would answer this same question?

5. What role does a researcher's ideology play in his research? To what extent can Epistemological Skepticism about Social Phenomena mitigate this influence?

Comments and Sharing

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COMMENTS (1 to date)
Cowboy Prof writes:

I will be the typical academic by answering the question that I want to answer and pose yet another question that was not raised in the other set of comments on the podcast.

One of Zingales's solutions to academic bias is to inject more competition into the academic journal business. I am intrigued by this and found myself whistling his tune for a bit. (Literally, I whistled at this section of the podcast while walking the dog.)

However, my question would be how to make this work as there may be some structural limitations. First, as part of the peer review process, other faculty members have to peer review the article usually "blindly." (As you get older in the profession, you realize it is never really "blind.") Providing a decent review of an article takes significant time (for me, usually a full day of work) and comes with very little compensation. Being an anonymous reviewer sucks. If an author submitted the same article to four different journals, it is likely more reviewers would be involved in the process and the chances that you spend a day reviewing an article only to find out the author went with another journal and another set of reviewers would be very disheartening. I would feel my time was wasted and, as an effect, I would be much less willing to review for any journal in the future.

Second, there is also a very strong possibility that one reviewer would receive review requests from two or three separate journals for the same piece. How would this affect the reviewer? Might they spin their reviews to make the article more appealing for a particular journal as compared to another? Would this be a problem? It might not be.

My general concern here is that we may not be thinking through all aspects of Zingales's claim. How would the reviewing process be altered?

P.S. This is coming from a guy who does favor competition, so perhaps I'm trying to overcome my bias as advised in the podcast.

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