What do economists do?
Economists study the most important
problems facing the world, and not just in a few countries. At least that is what I thought.
Jishnu Das and Quy-Toan Do (both at the World Bank) have put a data set together,
collated from all main economics journals, and coded subject fields and
geographical focus. Using their data, I created this picture of what the
(traditional) top 5 'general interest' journals have published (Journal of Political Economy, American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal
of Economics, Economic Journal and Review of Economics Studies). In the most
recent period of their data, 2000 to 2006, the articles these journals published were
equally spread between theory and papers using data from a single country -
about 46% each. The rest were multi-country studies. What more can we say
about the single-country articles? Between 2000 and 2006, there were 1232
single-country articles in the top 5 journals, dealing with 54 different
countries. So what about the geographical spread ? This Wordle Picture
(http://www.wordle.net/) shows it well,
using letter sizes proportional to the frequency of a country's occurrence
in these top-5 journals. All 54 countries are on the picture! You can surely
see the US and the UK, and a handful of smudges on your screen; beyond these
two countries, the shares of the others are miniscule (more below).
About 63% of the articles were on the US and 12%
on the UK. Canada is the next in line with 2.7%. China and India were each covered by just under 2% of the
articles. The whole of sub-Saharan Africa had 1.8% of articles. Of
course, this does not mean that there is a bias in the editorial policy of
the top economics journals. It is perfectly possible that those
countries are not very interesting, or that there are just very few people
writing about these countries or that those economists writing papers
on these other economies are not very good or that they just don't submit to
these journals. And I just saw a pretty pig flying outside my window.
Fortunately, development economics has plenty of good journals, such as the Journal of Development Economics.
In the same period, they published about 34% theory, and 43% of articles are using data
from one country. The rest were multi-country studies. The Wordle Picture of
the single-country studies in this journal for 2000-2006 is given below.
Latin America is somewhat overrepresented with 30%, India gets 12%, China
11% and Africa 18%.
With thanks to Jishnu and Quy-Toan.
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