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What Are Economists Talking About?

What are the big issues economists are talking about? Here’s a tag cloud, showing the frequency of various terms across the 698 papers presented in the various sessions at the recent annual meetings of the American Economic Association:

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It’s good to see the biggest word here is “evidence.” In fact, there’s more “evidence” than “economics.”
The “global” “financial” “crisis” has clearly affected the direction of research. There’s a large role played by “credit” and “risk,” real attention being paid to “policy,” fear about “jobs,” and the “labor” and “capital” market implications of problems that began in the “mortgage” and “housing” market.
While “fiscal” policy didn’t rate a mention, “monetary” policy did.
Beyond the response to the crisis, some of the newer fields of economic inquiry remain vibrant, with terms like “learning,” “experiments,” “school,” and “health” featured prominently. There’s surprisingly little work on “development,” but a lot of interest in “gender,” “households,” and “women.” Our students will be pleased to hear of several sessions focusing on “teaching.”
But our research methods remain largely unchanged, with that sharp focus on “evidence” and “analysis” also reflecting ongoing interest in “prices,” “information,” “structure,” and a surprisingly small contribution from both “innovation” and “institutions.” Oh, and paper titles mentioning “theory” were just as common as those mentioning “empirical” work.
O.K., this is a pretty crude analysis. But still, this year’s conference suggests to me that the economics profession is healing itself.