An Applied Economics Tournament Re-Opens for Old-Fashioned Business 

It is July, and for the first time in three years the Summer Institute of the National Bureau of Economic Research is meeting in-person in Cambridge, Mass. at least for the most part, with some on-line components as well.  (In the days before Zoom, venture capitalists used to describe more expensive face-to-face gatherings as “flesh-meets,” to distinguish them from conference calls.) A parallel, pan-European policy research institution, the Centre for Economic Policy Research, now headquartered in Paris, was founded in 1983.

A substantial fraction of the NBER’s 1,700+ research affiliates, who are drawn from colleges and universities mostly in North America, and a few others scattered around the world, will troop through the Sonesta Hotel in east Cambridge over the next three weeks, along with  enough colleagues and students to add up to an attendance of some 2,400 persons in all. It is the forty-fifth annual meeting of what has become, in essence, a highly-decentralized Wimbledon-style tournament of applied economists, staged as a science fair, and conducted in a series of high-level seminars.

Wimbledon, in that NBER players are professionally ranked; affliates are selected by peer-review. Decentralized, in that 49 different projects are on the docket, many of them overlapping.  Science fair, in that investigators choose their own problems, and rely on agreed-upon methods to study them, while new methods themselves are the subject of a separate annual lecture. Seminars, in that presenters don’t simply read their papers they have written; they briefly describe them, then respond to discussants and badinage.

An overall program is here. A detailed day-by-day listing of sessions is here. First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Gita Gopinath, of Harvard University, is slated to deliver the Martin Feldstein Lecture July 19 at 515p EST: Managing a Turn in the Global Financial Cycle.

Meanwhile, a mile down the Charles River, the Russell Sage Foundation Summer Camp in Behavioral Economies has been underway in the Marriott Hotel, some twenty-five or thirty Ph.D. candidates and post-docs studying with leading researchers, under the direction of David Laibson and Matthew Rabin, both of Harvard University.

The Summer Institute is where economic policy approaches are argued among experts. Nobel Prizes emerge mostly from summer camps. EP looks forward to a lot of (virtual) running-around.


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