Economics, Dominated by White Men, Is Roiled by Black Lives Matter

Tone deaf and blindness about socioeconomic realities:

The national protests seeking an end to systemic discrimination against black Americans have given new fuel to a racial reckoning in economics, a discipline dominated by white men despite decades of efforts to open greater opportunity for women and nonwhite men.

A growing chorus of economists is seeking to dislodge the editor of a top academic publication, the University of Chicago economist Harald Uhlig, after he criticized the Black Lives Matter organization on Twitter and equated its members with “flat earthers” over their embrace of calls to defund police departments.

Days earlier, the profession’s de facto governing body, the American Economic Association, sent a letter to its members supporting protesters and saying that “we have only begun to understand racism and its impact on our profession and our discipline.” A group of economists, mostly from outside academia, last week hosted an online fund-raising effort for the Sadie Collective, an organization that aims to bring more black women into the field.

Black economists say the events have brought some progress to a field that has long struggled with discrimination in its ranks — and with a refusal by many of its leaders to acknowledge discrimination in the country at large. But the profession remains nowhere close to a full-scale shift on racial issues: On Wednesday, the director of the White House National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, told reporters, “I don’t believe there is systemic racism in the U.S.”

Black Americans are vastly underrepresented among economics students and professors, a wide range of data have shown. There are no black editors of the most prestigious economics journals. There are no black professors in the main economics department at Chicago, Mr. Uhlig’s employer, which is one of the most storied departments in the country.

In a survey of economists released by the American Economic Association last year, only 14 percent of black economists agreed with the statement that “people of my race/ethnicity are respected within the field.”

As protests against discrimination have grown in recent days, a conversation has erupted — often led by black economists — over how the lack of diversity has left the profession ill equipped for a moment where policymakers are seeking ideas on how to combat racial inequality in policing, employment and other areas.

“Hopefully, this moment will cause economists to reflect and rethink how we study racial disparities,” the Howard University economist William Spriggs wrote to colleagues in an open letterthat was posted this week on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Trapped in the dominant conversation, far too often African American economists find themselves having to prove that African Americans are equal,” he continued. “We find ourselves, as so often happens in these ugly police cases, having to prove that acts of discrimination are exactly that — discrimination.”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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