The Policy Relevance of Agricultural Economists

The latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics has an article by Maurice Doyon titled “Can Agricultural Economists Improve their Policy Relevance?

The article is a summary of Doyon’s presidential address to the 2014 meetings of the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society. In his address, Doyon posits that in order to improve their policy relevance, agricultural economists need to take seriously some of the criticisms which have been directed at economics in general, and some of his recommendations are that:

  • We should be more transparent by showing all of our robustness checks,
  • We should incorporate insights from other behavioral sciences, and
  • We should learn to write for a broader audience.

I don’t disagree with any of those recommendations, but my view is that the many young (i.e., younger than 40 or so) agricultural economists are already doing those things. Indeed,

  • Many of us have followed the lead of other applied microeconomists (e.g., labor and development economists in particular) in presenting results that are as transparent as possible and including as many robustness checks as we can imagine in our work,
  • Many (though not all) of us now have a healthy appreciation for the insights generated by behavioral economists, and
  • Quite a few of us are involved in the popularization of what we do, whether by blogging, writing popular press pieces, or by being actively engaged in social media.

I am not saying Doyon’s remarks miss the mark–many agricultural economists would greatly benefit from following his recommendations–but if I had been the one making those remarks, I would have gone a step further, and my overwhelming recommendation would have been this: In order to enhance their policy relevance, agricultural economists have to do two things: (i) Answer bigger questions, and (ii) Take causal identification seriously. Continue reading

File Under “Things I Never Thought I Would Blog About”

An article by Heather Mac Donald in City Journal has alerted me to the queering of agriculture:

Another day in academia, another twist in the bizarre world of identity studies. The Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is presenting a talk next week on “Queering Agriculture,” dedicated to the proposition that “it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture.”

My first reaction, after reading the above paragraph, was: “Is it [absolutely crucial], though?” Don’t get me wrong, I believe queer studies is a legitimate field of study, to which some resources should be dedicated, but… in relation to agriculture?

But then I thought better. Even though Heather Mac Donald’s book The Burden of Bad Ideas is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in the last year, I disagree with her takedown of the queering-of-agriculture research in the City Journal article I link to above. My view on research topics is this: Let the market decide what is and what isn’t worthy of being researched. If there is a demand for it, this type of research should be conducted, published, and discussed.

My reaction stems from having encountered several people in the past who weren’t shy about letting me know that they thought the research I was doing was completely devoid of interest.

I could have chosen to become like those people, and be dismissive of what I have never spent much time thinking about. Instead, I vowed to meet others on the level, so to speak. No matter what those past naysayers thought, however, here I am still conducting the same kind of research, and getting paid even better to do so and talk about it. So my view is this: Let ideas compete openly. What’s the worst that is going to happen? Having a more diverse agricultural sector? That would be a good thing.

Still, queer studies and agriculture are two things I never thought I would witness the marriage of, as those are fairly distant corners of academia.

ht: Eddy Elmer.

The Political Economy of US Agricultural Policy on the EconTalk Podcast

Jayson has blogged about it already, but I just recently found the time to listen to UC Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner’s appearance on Russ Roberts’ EconTalk podcast.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dan’s work (and if you have any interest in food or agricultural policy, you really have no excuse for not being familiar with it), he discusses the political economy of agricultural policy.

Of specific interest to me (and, I suspect, to many readers of this blog), starting at about the 48th minute of the podcast, Dan talks about the international consequences of US agricultural policy. The link above also includes links to many interesting readings, to web resources, and to other podcasts on related topics.