How Do You Speed Up Economists?
Like many other journals in economics and other disciplines, the Economic Journal, the main scholarly organ of the Royal Economic Society, has paid referees (judges of submitted scholarly papers) for prompt reports (e.g., the American Economic Review offers $100 for a prompt report).
The purpose of this is to provide an incentive to get the job done quickly. I have long felt that the policy has only a marginal effect, and have even demonstrated that my supposition is correct. The main effect of the AER‘s incentive was to induce those who would have just missed the deadline for claiming the reward to get the job done a few weeks earlier. The really delinquent referees were unaffected.
Perhaps in recognition of the problems with small rewards, the EJ has abolished them and will instead be offering 10 prizes of £500 each year for the best referee reports. Whether this will work depends on how capable economists are at getting their acts together to win what is a fairly small prize (at least to most people in this well-paid profession), and on their degree of risk aversion toward this very risky gamble. Given past evidence, I would be happy to bet that this new incentive does very little to speed up the editorial process.