American Economic Association
The American Economic Association (AEA) was founded in Saratoga in 1885.
The AEA emerged through the efforts of young economists Richard T. Ely (then at Johns Hopkins), Henry C. Adams (then at Cornell) and E.R.A. Seligman (then, and for a long time after, at Columbia). To some extent, it emerged out of the methodenstreit and power struggle between Richard T. Ely and Simon Newcomb at the Johns Hopkins University in the 1880s. Ely hoped the AEA would galvanize the fledgling "New Generation" of German Historicist-trained American economists against the conservative old guard. Ely was inspired by the organization of the American Historical Association (AHA) by his close Hopkins colleague Herbert Baxter Adams in 1884, and drew on the same rolls.
At the time of its creation, the AEA broached on the territory of two existing organizations - the American Statistical Association (ASA, f.1839) and the American Social Science Association (SSA, f.1865). The latter felt particularly affronted. The SSA had long insisted on a wider view of the social sciences and discouraged the splintering into separate disciplines. The creation of the AEA, siphoning away the economists into a separate organization, dealt a nearly-fatal blow to the SSA.
The early members of the AEA divided over whether to conceive itself as an organization with broad membership (like the SSA had been) or a narrower academic-oriented one. Many, including Ely himself, originally nurtured visions of the AEA becoming a applied and social policy body, an American version of the German Verein für Socialpolitik, with a goal to influence the general public and politicians, and push for social and economic reform. Its original provisional platform composed in the Spring of 1885 (see Ely, 1886, p.6). It included declarations such as "we regard the State as an educational and ethical agency whose positive aid is an indispensable condition of human progress", that "laissez faire is unsafe in politics and unsound in morals", a rejection of the economic theory "of the past generation" and a demand for a new scientific economics based not on speculative inquiry but on "the aid of statistics in the present, and history in the past", explicit recognition that the "conflict of labor and capital" needs the "united efforts of church, state and science", but that in the matter of restrictions on trade and protection "we take no partisan attitude". The provisional platform was circulated as a prospectus among American economists, and a founding meeting arranged at Saratoga, New York (Sep 8-11, 1885) to coincide with the conference of the American Historical Association (of which many economists were members; see list of participants). Ely's provisional platform was discussed at Saratoga, although broadly agreed with, objections were raised to some of its negative statements. Although diluted (e.g. the condemnation of laissez faire and past economics was omitted), Ely's platform was incorporated as a "statement of principles" in Art III in the first AEA constitution (1885 Const).
The AEA was formally founded on September 9, 1885 at Saratoga. While Ely managed to rope in the venerable General Francis Amasa Walker as the first President of AEA, New Generationists filled in the rest of the offices - John Bates Clark, H.C. Adams and E.J. James, were the first vice-presidents, Ely himself was installed as the first secretary and Seligman as treasurer. Local "branch associations" were established in several American cities, notably Connecticut Valley (CT), Buffalo (NY), Galesburg (Ill), Washington (DC), Orange (NJ), Canton (OH) and Austin (TX).
Despite its initial radicalism, the AEA quickly became a broad professional organization as opposed to a narrower and more partisan association. In December 1887, the AEA Council proposed to amend the constitution to remove the radical "statement of principles" of the 1885 constitution, and a new constitution was adopted at the third annual meeting in Philadelphia in December 1888.. The new
At the third annual meeting in December 1888, the AEA constitution was amended (Report p.314) to remove the radical "statement of principles" of the 1885 constitution was removed by 1890. Nonetheless, the new constitution remained overtly Historicist in tone, including as its object: ""the encouragement of economic research, especially the historical and statistical study of the actual conditions of economic life" (1890, Art II), while simultaneously promising "perfect freedom of economic discussion".. Its social reform objectives also continued - among its early resolutions were requests to establish committees on hot policy topics like labor working hours, women in factories, municipal finance, public works, rent, a national railroad commission, suffrage in local elections, transportation and the silver question (1890: res).
If "New Generation" proto-Institutionalists were overrepresented in the early membership rolls of the AEA, it was also because the "old school" American economists - such as Laughlin, Sumner, Taussig and Hadley - refused to join. They viewed the AEA suspiciously as a socialistic organization. However, most of their misgivings were allayed after Ely's resignation as secretary in 1892. The AEA was set more firmly on a professional tack, unattached to any particular school of thought, as new Neoclassicals and even old school apologists began gradually joining it (Laughlin, however, continued to refuse throughout his career, and chided Taussig for breaking ranks and consorting with the upstarts). Curiously, it was only in 1925, and after some energetic lobbying efforts by Paul H. Douglas, that the AEA finally got around to offering Thorstein Veblen the presidency of the AEA - which Veblen, of course, refused with pleasure.
From the beginning, the American Economic Association began putting out the Publications of the AEA, in 1886, which came out irregularly a few times a year. Some of its numbers contained multiple articles and book reviews, others were just a single study or monograph, and there was always a special volume dedicated to the proceedings of the AEA meetings. So the Pub AEA was a mix between a journal and an occasional paper series. This had been conscious - Ely had originally wanted the Pub AEA to serve as something akin to policy briefs, rather than pure academic fare. For a brief period (1896-99), the AEA's Handbook and Proceedings were published separately under the serial title Economic Studies. The Publications of the AEA was reset as a more regular quarterly ("third series") in 1900, and began to bear the additional title American Economic Association Quarterly, albeit it was still undecided whether it was a journal or paper series. From 1908, book reviews began to be published separately as a new quarterly, the Economic Bulletin.
In 1911, the Publications and Bulletin were discontinued, and the AEA launched a single new quarterly journal, the American Economic Review (AER)..It was now determined to be a quarterly academic journal, with four numbers per year (March, June, Sep, Dec), with an additional fifth volume of "Papers and Proceedings" (May). It maintained that structure for the next century.
The AER was designed in 1911 to compete with the rising economics journals put by other institutions - notably Columbia's Political Science Quarterly (PSQ, begun 1886), Harvard's Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE, 1886), Chicago's Journal of Political Economy (JPE, 1892), the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS, 1890) and the British Royal Economic Society's Economic Journal (EJ, 1890). The AER quickly muscled itself into the top of the heap.
Things have gone a bit smoother since then. Nonetheless, three distinct accusations of bias have been thrown against the AEA which are worth mentioning for historical interest. Firstly is in the criteria for accepting articles for its journal, the American Economic Review -- long considered to among the most prestigious in the profession. In its early years, the American Economic Review was (and remains) aimed at a relatively wide audience and thus articles which were too technical or mathematical rarely found their way into the AER. To a certain extent, this anti-technical bias was also found in contemporary American journals. Nonetheless, this proved intolerable for technically-inclined economists - and a rival, worldwide organization, the "Econometric Society" and its journal Econometrica, was set up in the 1930s to fill the void left by the AER and other conventional journals. As the technical language of economics advanced, the AER has admitted increasingly technical papers - although its wide audience does not permit it to overextend itself in this respect.
Two more recent AEA journals have been instituted to help its dissemination mission. The Journal of Economic Literature (begun 1963 as the Journal of Economic Abstracts, but recast as JEL in 1969) usually contains a few wide literature surveys, book reviews and annotated listings of new articles and abstracts in economics, is the reference journal of the profession. The Journal of Economic Perspectives (begun 1987) devoted exclusively to accessible articles and surveys of economic ideas and debates, serves as the communication line between increasingly specialized and often incomprehensible professional economists and the more general public.
The second accusation has been regarding the mid-winter meetings of the AEA, held in conjunction with other associations under the overarching title of "Allied Social Science Association" (ASSA), usually in late December/early January. These have been a greater cause of consternation because the programs, usually organized the presidents, naturally exhibit their personal preferences and thus often exclude issues and groups which they dislike or feel do not deserve a hearing. Although many presidents attempt to be magnanimous in their coverage, heterodox economics is sometimes shunted out of the formal AEA conference programs - although many heterodox organizations set up their own separate meetings at the same time.
The third accusation that the AEA has also borne in the past is that it is biased in its very lack of bias! For the most part, the AEA has adhered to the idea that it should make no pronouncements, as an organization, regarding any economic, social or political programs. The one exception to this rule is that it (sometimes) speaks, as an organization, against political attempts by governments to curtail freedom of speech and academic research. Some economists have felt uncomfortable with that position. The AEA's refusal to take a position about the Vietnam War during the 1960s, for example, divided its members.
The American Economic Association has also been a fountainhead of professional accolades and honors for economists to gather over time and attach to their sleeves. Ever since 1885, the American Economic Association has elected a member of the American profession to its presidency more on the basis of merit than on organizational ability. Its most watched award is perhaps the John Bates Clark Medal - which as instituted in the 1940s and is traditionally awarded every second year (now yearly) to a promising young economist under the age of forty. Every year since 1962 it also gives out a Distinguished Fellow award to one or two American economists (increased to three, then four, in recent years) - perhaps in fear that deserving economists might miss out on the more conventional awards.
Previous to the Nobel Memorial Prize, the most prestigious prize in economics might have been the Francis A. Walker Medal, awarded every five years for outstanding lifetime achievements. It was discontinued after 1977, ostensibly because the Nobel Memorial Prize made it superfluous, even though they are not perfect substitutes. The Walker medal - like the Clark medal and Distinguished Fellow award - was exclusive to economists working in the United States (while the Nobel Memorial Prize is open to all countries). The AEA instituted the special award of "Foreign Honorary Member" to distinguished economists working in other countries.
In the 1960s, the AEA instituted the Richard T. Ely Lecture, an address given by renowned economists at the AEA Conference - which is not confined, as its other awards usually are, to American economists.. The Richard T. Ely Lecture and the Presidential Address to the AEA are often the two favorite places that the great elders of the profession finally get to air their long-held opinions and complaints about the field, and so have a tradition of being rather firecracker lectures.
Traditionally the American Economic Review (AER) was a quarterly, with four numbers per year (March, June, Sep, Dec), with an additional fifth volume of "Papers and Proceedings" (May). Starting in 2011, with the 100th volume, the AER began publishing six numbers a year (February, April, June, August, October, December) with an additional seventh volume of Papers & Proceedings (still May). .In addition to its three long-standing journals (AER, JEL, JEP), the AEA began publishing four "field journals" since 2009, all prefixed American Economic Journal, with specific subtitle Applied Economics, Economic Policy, Macroeconomics and Microeconomics. The AEJ field journals were designed as outlets to handle the surge of new articles, and to give economists an alternative to the high-cost specialized journals put out by commercial houses.
Instituted in 1947 by the American Economic Association and awarded every five years to established economist for lifetime work, or rather "to the living American economist who in the judgment of the awarding body has during his career made the greatest contribution to economics". Named after early American economist, Francis Amasa Walker. The creation of the Nobel Memorial Prize has ostensibly made the Walker Medal effectively superfluous as a cap on a career, and the Walker medal was discontinued in 1981.
Instituted in 1947 by the American Economic Association and awarded every second year (annually since 2009) to a promising young economist - i.e. "to that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge". Named after early Neoclassical economist, John Bates Clark, it is widely considered to be the profession's most coveted award -- exceeding, perhaps, even the Nobel Memorial Prize in prestige.
Distinguished lecture to the AEA, instituted in 1962 and not confined to Americans. Named after one of the founders of the AEA, Richard T. Ely.
Established by the AEA in 1965, this is awarded annually to not more than two "economists of high distinction in the United States and Canada". The number was increased to "not more than three" in 2002-03 and to "no more than four" in 2010-11. All Walker medallists and presidents were awarded the title of "Distinguished Fellow" automatically. To highlight specifically elected distinguished fellows, we omit the ex oficio fellows from this list . Traditionally, portraits of the president appeared in the March (No.1) issue of the AER, and the distinguished fellows in June (No. 2) and September (No.3). After 2003, the third fellow appeared in the December issue (No.4). With the reorganization in 2011 of the AER to six numbers per year, and distinguished fellows to four, the portrait of the President now appears in April (No.2), and distinguished fellows appear in June (No.4), August (No.5), October (No.6) and December (No.7) in the year after their service.
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