Sunday, 26 September 2010

The shrinking names of economists

Paul Krugman bemoans an externality imposed on him by Narayana Kocherlakota (or his ancestors): the need to fit more letters into a short column, the more he is discussed.

While this problem has been solved over at WCI (see what I did there?) by compressing him to NK, this is a risky policy due to the frequent mentions of New Keynesian models alongside his name.

Paul suggests that all economists should have short names like Ip and Ng.

If this a problem now, surely it was a bigger problem in the days of mechanical movable type. With modern typesetting software and the greater readership of electronic media, long names are now more affordable to the reader.

We can test this hypothesis statistically. Let's start with the founders of economics in the 18th century: Hume, Smith and Mill. So far, so good. Indeed, the first entry in my Routledge "Fifty Major Economists" is the tiny-surnamed Thomas Mun.

In the 19th century the theory was developed further by Ricardo, Edgeworth and then Marshall. We even see the first eighteen-letter name with Eugen Von Böhm-Bawerk.

As the twentieth century arrives, the names lengthen further: Schumpeter, von Neumann, Samuelson and Modigliani become common currency. Douglass North even has room to add an extra 's' to the end of his first name.

And today, the rise of twelve-and-more-letter surnames gives us not only Kocherlakota, but also Leijonhufvud, Eichengreen, Mullainathan, Georgescu-Roegen, two Bhattacharyas (actually, one of them is a Bhattacharyya), the amazing Berrak Buyukkarabacak, Leandro Prados-de-la-Escosura,
Bruno van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, and someone who would never have broken through the glass ceiling of Gutenberg: Katrin Assenmacher-Wesche.

Even controlling for Sri Lanka, this effect is striking.

Now of course, despite the lower marginal cost of an additional letter in the name, it's still an advantage to have a shorter one. Not only will Paul Krugman mention you more often in his columns, but it's easier to remember and there's nothing better for your citation count than having people remember your name.

Even today, Krugman, Mankiw and Sen are cited more often than Leijonhufvud or van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie. Of course their work may not be directly comparable, but we can also examine exact substitutes such as Cowen and Tabarrok - undoubtedly Cowen gets more of the glory there. Who can you remember better: Arrow or Debreu? Which is more prestigious: the Nobel or the Bates Clark medal?

I think Krugman has hit on a fundamental factor which explains much of the success of economists. If only this principle could be extrapolated to the actual economy. We might be able to find out why the USA is richer than Bosnia-Herzegovina. A mystery that has puzzled macroeconomists for decades.

4 comments:

Min said...

Remember, Napoleon at times signed himself simply as N.

And who can forget the movie, Z?

As for L'histoire d'O, what can be said? ;)

Islander said...

Using the IDEAS scores, which are assigned to economists based on number of citations at http://ideas.repec.org/top/top.person.nbcites.html (tip of the hat to Greg Mankiw for the link) and plotting this against the number of characters in the respective economists' names, here is the resultant spreadsheet:

http://www.2shared.com/document/xKWGgMOH/Characters_in_name_vs_IDEAS_sc.html
[scroll down and click the tiny text "Download to your PC: click here"]

As you see, r^2 is about 0.000037. Is this not rather damning evidence for your theory?

I'm only 18, haven't started my econ degree yet (next week...), and so am not any kind of authority on either economics or statistics. I don't even know how to calculate nonlinear correlation, which may be more appropriate here. More serious may be the fact that IDEAS scores are imperfect proxies for fame.

But how do you respond to such an empirical finding?

Islander said...

Using the IDEAS scores, which are assigned to economists based on number of citations at http://ideas.repec.org/top/top.person.nbcites.html (tip of the hat to Greg Mankiw for the link) and plotting this against the number of characters in the respective economists' names, here is the resultant spreadsheet:

http://www.2shared.com/document/xKWGgMOH/Characters_in_name_vs_IDEAS_sc.html
[scroll down and click "Save file to your PC: click here"]

As you see, r^2 is about 0.000037. Is this not rather damning evidence for your theory?

I'm only 18 and haven't started my econ degree yet (next week...), and so am not any kind of authority on either economics or statistics. I don't even know how to calculate nonlinear correlation, which may be more appropriate here. More serious may be the fact that IDEAS scores are imperfect proxies for fame.

But how do you respond to such an empirical finding?

Shalom Patrick Hamou said...

_______________________
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It is prone to lead to procrastination and prevent us to go forward!

Our economy is slowly dying, your job, lifestyle are dominated by anxiety.

No one is proposing a solution because no one has the slightest idea of why it is happening and many have vested interest in the present system.

However an objective observation of the phenomenon can help us understand it and provide us with an innovative solution.

Of course we can't solve the problem with the tools that brought us there in the first place and we need a new ideology.
_______________________

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Is the fulfilment of these ideas a visionary hope? Have they insufficient roots in the motives which govern the evolution of political society? Are the interests which they will thwart stronger and more obvious than those which they will serve?

I do not attempt an answer in this place. It would need a volume of a different character from this one to indicate even in outline the practical measures in which they might be gradually clothed. But if the ideas are correct — an hypothesis on which the author himself must necessarily base what he writes — it would be a mistake, I predict, to dispute their potency over a period of time. At the present moment people are unusually expectant of a more fundamental diagnosis; more particularly ready to receive it; eager to try it out, if it should be even plausible.

But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

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