David R. Henderson  

Tales of Chicago Workshops

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A number of economists are posting on Facebook this morning about the article on Princeton economist Anne Case's view on why so few women go into economics. The piece is short and I have nothing to add to it, other than that I think she is probably right.

What I do want to add is about University of Chicago economics workshops. (When I presented there in 1977, it was called a "workshop." They still call them that. I presented my recently completed Ph.D. dissertation in the famous industrial organization workshop. By the way, I still am proud of the way I handled criticisms from one of the toughest critics, Lester Telser.) Those workshops have come up in some of the Facebook comments.

What follows is not a judgement about the wisdom of conducting workshops the way they did when I presented, and, I gather, the way they have done for many years. It's simply a fun story.

It's a story that Gary Becker told at the Hoover Institution memorial service for George Stigler in 1992. A few years ago, at a conference in honor of Gary, I told the story to his widow, Guity Nashat, because it involved her. She got a kick out of it. I hope you do too.

Gary talked about how Stigler's standard style in those workshops was to find weaknesses in the paper being presented and point them out. (By the way, one of the things that impressed me and was, I gather, typical, was that everyone who commented on my paper seemed to have read it relatively carefully beforehand.) Gary would come home that evening and tell Guity, an economic historian, about the paper's thesis and about the various criticisms the participants had made, always including George's.

One evening he came home and told Guity about the paper and the various participants' comments and criticisms. When he finished, Guity said, "You didn't mention George. What did George think?"

Gary paused and reflected. Then he said, "Hmmm. George didn't say anything. I guess he liked the paper."


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Kurt Schuler writes:

If Anne Case is right, the market for economists is not efficient. Is that what you are agreeing to? Low rates of participation by women could simply reflect that more women think they have better uses for their time and that economics is not as interesting to them as it is to you, me, and Case.

David R Henderson writes:

@Kurt Schüler,
If Anne Case is right, the market for economists is not efficient. Is that what you are agreeing to?
No. I’m agreeing to her argument that women don’t tend to like, or put up with, confrontational disagreements as much as men do.
Low rates of participation by women could simply reflect that more women think they have better uses for their time and that economics is not as interesting to them as it is to you, me, and Case.
Yes, it could.

zeke5123 writes:

I could buy the argument. Of course, it doesn't follow that the solution is to eliminate the confrontational style, which seems to be Case's implicit conclusion.

Of course, it could also be that economics is about systems, not empathy. Thus, greater interest by men in Economics can be explained by the male-female difference between interest in things instead of people (i.e., the theory that got Damore fired from Google, but seems to have some legs -- the size of those legs is an open question).

David R Henderson writes:

@zeke5123,
Of course, it doesn't follow that the solution is to eliminate the confrontational style, which seems to be Case's implicit conclusion.
I agree. Somehow, I would like to see a confrontational style that’s also friendly. Some people, like Gary Becker, could pull it off beautifully. Others, like Lester Telser, had trouble with that. On net, I think the Chicago way was better than the way I grew up with in Canada, where people were too polite to say anything and, instead, just talked behind your back.

Iskander writes:


Some university could attract the great women and men who don't like the Chicago style by hosting seminars suited for them. Seems like a $100 bill on the sidewalk, why hasn't anyone picked it up?

Eclectecon writes:

I loved the Chicago workshop style and format, but then I was introduced to it by Bob Fogel, who was a kind, gentle, hard-thinking person. He was tough, but he didn't make the presenters feel like dirt either. From what I've heard, I'd have been devastated by the attacks in other workshops there.

I don't know to what extent discrimination is still extant in economics. My own department after some serious periods of discrimination seems reasonably non-discriminating.

http://home.cabletv.on.ca/~jpalmer/Articles/gazette/sexfin.html

Michael Byrnes writes:

zeke5123 wrote:

I could buy the argument. Of course, it doesn't follow that the solution is to eliminate the confrontational style, which seems to be Case's implicit conclusion.

David R Henderson responded:

I agree. Somehow, I would like to see a confrontational style that’s also friendly.

Oddly, I didn't see anything in that article that suggested Case had a different view than Henderson.

Admittedly, my academic is in a very different field from economics, but from what I've seen in my time scientific rigor and civility don't have to be mutually exclusive.

David R Henderson writes:

@Eclectecon,
Excellent piece.

Hazel Meade writes:

My guess - for women who have the chops in mathematics to hack it as an economist, there are far more lucrative opportunities working in STEM fields, and they take far fewer years of training to get there. The tech industry is thus sucking up all the potential female economists.


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