A profession that was too grudging in its approbation

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The gentlemen’s book of etiquette: Table Etiquette “It seems a very simple thing to eat your meals, yet there is no occasion upon which the gentleman, and low-bred, vulgar man are more strongly contrasted, than when at the table … Try to sit easily and gracefully, but at the same time avoid crowding those beside you …  Observe a strict sobriety; never drink of more than one kind of wine, and partake of that sparingly.

But what if you were a woman who thought that University House is a stuffy old place and  that the graceful sally  and happy retort of the senior professors is BOOOOORING?

What if you were brave enough to occasionally express your feelings? What if you refused to be confined to a black and white room, be educated through black and white books, and be lectured via  black and white TV?[*] For some, the only reasonable option was to leave Australia, join the World Bank, and become one of the world’s most accomplished trade economists.

I’ve been reading the paper Trade, Firms, and Wages: Theory and Evidence; by Amiti and Davis, which is forthcoming in REStud.  The paper tries to understand how trade liberalisation affects wages? This is an important question in international economics, which has been studied a lot. The reason this paper is important is because it proposes a theory and confirms that theory using data (Indonesian manufacturing census data).  I think that most good research programs in economics are heading in that direction.

I met Mary Amiti in 1997 at La Trobe University where we were both lecturers. Looking back at our junior Australia based cohorts I simply cannot think of an Australian economist who is now a more accomplished  researcher than Amiti. The empirical/theoretical work that she did while at the University of Melbourne has had a tremendous impact. She is presently at the New York Fed.

I remember at the time, when she decided to leave Australia, being very disappointed that a person early in their career with obvious potential and an emerging record of research excellence  was  leaving.  But the profession in Australia has changed. I think that early career researchers now can do just as well in Australia as overseas.

9 Responses to "A profession that was too grudging in its approbation"
  1. I wish I knew what this post was about. Are you saying she left because she was a woman? Or that the table manners at La Trobe was too rigidly enforced? Or that ECR’s are not sufficiently supported?

    You also say: “The reason this paper is important is because it proposes a theory and confirms that theory using data.” So are you saying that most economics papers do not? In which case, what is the point of economics?

  2. Hi Chris, 

    Most papers in economics are either

    * purely theoretical, where the theory is marginally informed by what we see.

    * demographic studies, data analysis that is only marginally informed by a theoretical model.

    It is generally very difficult to setup a theoretical model that is both coherent and that is testable using data (and that is confirmed by this data). When that happens the research tends to be remarkable.   

  3. She left the University of Melbourne. It was very sad but given the environment pretty understandable. It took another decade before the Department of Economics finally appointed its first woman to full Professor.

  4. “Most papers in economics are either
    * purely theoretical, where the theory is marginally informed by what we see.
    * demographic studies, data analysis that is only marginally informed by a theoretical model.”
    Woaoaoa !

    Rabee, ever heard of experimental (and its unruly sibling behavioral) economics, and the thousands of papers that were written in this area in the last couple of decades?  Or are those part of the set that complements “most” papers in economics?

    Gosh, I hope you are not going to be one of the 149 academics on the research evaluations committees … 😉  

  5. Sorry Andreas,

    I was talking about the effects of trade liberalization on wages.  That sub area had either pure theory or empirics. But the Amiti and Davies paper does both.

    Of course, there is a reason why I read a lot of experimental work. It does both. The same goes for structural IO.  And many other areas.

  6. I suspect that had that department been subject to the incentives that come with an ERA that reflects global journal rankings, she might not have left.

    I also note with interest that her ReStud paper uses Indonesian data, not US, not European…. Food for thought for users of Australian data…

  7. Why does it matter that she chose to leave Australia? It sounds like she has had a wonderful career and enjoyed many varied experiences. 

    If people can get better jobs overseas they should be encouraged to go. Good for her!

  8. This is a weird disorganized post. It generalizes from a single person’s experience years ago by citing a jointly authored paper by them forthcoming about know.

    Joshua connects it to alleged sexism in a department.

    Rohan connects it to support for the ERA,

    I think it proves conclusively that you should mix your drinks and eat with your thumbs.

  9. You may recall Harry my friend, we are talking about a time when a committee decision could hang on the last noodle of spaghetti, get the sauce in your eyes and you’re done.

    A time when we still had vivid memory of an even earlier time in which the real interview involved a test of manners, hack away at your food with knife and fork and you’re off to Bundoora.

    The main change that I see, and which has been effected by the ERA, is that these days instead of going cap in hand to Bundoora a white limousine takes you to Clayton.

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