Resolute contempt for fashion

Macroeconomic Dynamics
October 8, 1999

The division of labour in economics continues apace with the appearance of more specialist journals. Macroeconomic Dynamics and Review of Economic Dynamics have both started in the past few years. It is the former that is reviewed here.

Academics' increasing need to publish for career considerations along with the declining marginal cost of publishing have undoubtedly combined to increase the number of academic journals. To succeed, any new entrant needs distinctive characteristics. Succeeding as a latecomer also means identifying a niche market; it is too hard to become established as a high-quality general journal without any track record of success. So what are the distinctive features of Macroeconomic Dynamics (MD)?

The editorial policy states that MD "publishes research of the highest theoretical, empirical or quantitative sophistication" and that "papers of high quality are welcomed from all areas of advanced macroeconomics and related fields ... so long as research is founded in a rigorous scientific approach". In other words, the key features of the journal are a breadth of coverage within macroeconomics and a technical approach. Now in its third volume, this strategy has been successfully implemented, with each issue containing work of a high standard, strong technical proficiency and covering a broad range of topics. This is clearly a journal that PhD students in macroeconomics will consult on a frequent basis.

What is perhaps surprising about the journal is the lack of subject focus,which from the stated editorial policy appears to be a strategic choice. MD does not wish to be associated with any particular methodology, technique or subject area. It expresses a desire to deal with all issues in macro-economics and boundary areas such as finance, international economics, game theory, computational methods and so on. This broadness of scope is reflected in the editorial board and the initial issues. A list of the editorial board takes up the inside cover and is all-embracing, both by country and by subject area. The list of topics dealt with in the issues - incomplete markets, learning, models of monetary exchange and so on - cover pretty much the whole frontier of macroeconomic research. In other words, the journal is not targeting any particular group, but is trying to establish itself as a general journal for macro-economists.

However, most distinctive are the editor's views on the scientific nature of the journal. According to William Barnett (a professor at the University of Washington), "macro-economics is at a crossroads" and being lured by the call of "real science". However, "too many journals emphasise the policy relevance of macroeconomics to such a degree as to welcome questionable compromises in methodology. MD, on the other hand, will operate in the interests of science in macroeconomics". In particular, Barnett argues that unlike most sciences and even microeconomics, macroeconomics lacks a "growing backlog of accepted hypotheses" and at times shares with the arts a tendency "to reflect intellectual fashion and contemporary culture". MD will seek to overcome these problems by: a) publishing rigorous work (no short-cuts here); b) not focusing on intellectual fashions but publishing a broad range of work; c) allowing for papers that either replicate previous results or comment positively or negatively on previous work in order to achieve this backlog of accepted hypotheses; and d) ensuring that data and code used in any article are archived and made available to other and future scholars.

It is hard to complain about these aims and most journals would probably subscribe to them. There are, of course, obvious problems in implementing such a strategy. Economics journals tend to rank themselves by impact, hence the importance of the citation count; publishing papers that replicate previous results does little to boost their prestige. Perhaps not surprisingly such replication work has a very low profile in the journal to date. However, the main difficulty is maybe to avoid following intellectual fashions. This is a journal full of high-quality work with an axiomatic approach to economics. Theory clearly dominates over empirical work and simulations are far more prevalent than econometrics. As is always the case in economics references rarely stretch back more than a decade. In other words, MD reflects all the latest fashions in macroeconomics in its choice of technique, authors and subject matter. The importance given to theory and simulations is to be welcomed - macroeconomics has been shamefully late in recognising the importance of these trends in its development. However, the relatively low proportion of empirical work published to date makes me wonder about the extent to which MD will add to a backlog of accepted hypotheses.

MD is a journal that publishes quality work using modern macroeconomic methods. It has already achieved an impressive cast of authors and some good papers. However, its emphasis on rigour gives it a bias towards theoretical and computational economics and probably discriminates against the more applied and policy-oriented wing of the profession. This is therefore not a journal for the macroeconomic generalist, even though it professes such a wide scope. Further, its methodological scope is not as distinctive as it first appears: Journal of Monetary Economics, Review of Economic Dynamics and Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control all to varying degrees pursue a scientific bias that Barnett would approve of. However, this journal is of sufficiently high quality that one hopes it will promote a spirit of competition among its rivals.

Andrew Scott is research fellow, Centre for Economic Policy Research, London.

Macroeconomic Dynamics: (four times a year)

Editor - William A. Barnett
ISBN - ISSN 1365 1005
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £102.00 (institutions), £50.00 (individuals)
Pages - -

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