On January 5th, 2018, the AEA's Ad Hoc Committee to Consider a Code of Professional Conduct (hereafter, Ad Hoc Committee) released an interim report and a draft ''Code of Conduct'' for the economics profession. Clocking in at just over 200 words, the draft Code of Conduct is a concise statement on the values the economics profession strives to uphold. What is missing from the document is any such commitment or plan to uphold these values.
In order to craft an effective and appropriate Code of Conduct, the AEA must commit to a longer process that enlists and compensates a diverse group of economists to draft a robust document with a set of tangible commitments to improving conduct in our profession. We expect the group of economists crafting this document to include women, people of color, LGBTQ economists and those from a diverse set of socioeconomic, religious, national and intellectual backgrounds. These economists should be compensated financially for drafting a complete and thorough Code of Conduct that outlines concrete types of behavior that are deemed unacceptable and that institutionalizes a process through which violations can be reported and addressed.
The current draft emphasizes the importance of ''honesty and transparency in conducting and presenting research,'' as well as the AEA's support for ''participation and advancement in the economics profession by individuals from diverse backgrounds.'' The acknowledgement of these two standards is crucial to maintaining a high quality of research and respect in the profession. Given the behavior we have seen on EJMR and research showing systemic disadvantage for women and economists of color, it is clear that our profession has not been living up to to these ideals. The AEA's draft Code of Conduct takes an important step towards acknowledging the important and simple standards that all research should adhere to.
However in order to turn bold ideas into a reality, the AEA needs to establish institutions and systems that will incentivize the behavior they endorse, and address issues as they come up (and evolve over time). Professions such as sociology and law have modeled the type of robust code of conduct that a profession such as economics could adopt.
These other professions have established more specific guidelines for conduct with other professionals, clients, research subjects, audience members, and the general public. While the current draft put out by the AEA does allude to social media and spaces where comments can be made anonymously as venues that need to maintain a high standard of conduct, they do not explicitly address the specific forms of misconduct that would violate the Code. This leaves ample room for ambiguity and inaction in the case of misconduct.
Further, the Code does not offer a system of recourse for those who have witnessed or fallen victim to violations of conduct. Without a formal process of reporting and addressing violations, it is not clear that this Code will exist as anything other than wishful thinking. Again, other professions offer models for the type of committee that could receive and address reports of violations and address the ongoing need to adapt the code to an ever changing world.
Finally, the AEA has taken steps to support economists of diverse backgrounds by supporting CSWEP, CSMGEP, and the Ad Hoc LGBTQ working group. This work needs to be formalized into a concrete plan that will sustain the work of these committees without relying upon the labor and time of the underrepresented group members. It is a privilege that we have strong people leading these groups. But in order to truly make inclusion and representation a priority the AEA cannot rely solely on those who have been systematically disadvantaged.
It is in this sense that we feel that the draft Code of Conduct is incomplete. The Code states that it is the collective responsibility of economists to “develop institutional arrangements and a professional environment that promote free expression concerning economics.” However, to date, these institutions (such that they exist) have been championed primarily by those who have faced barriers to entering and contributing to the field. Without making a formal commitment to concrete and explicit support for free expression, ethical conduct, and the promotion of underrepresented groups, the AEA simply maintains the status quo - a status quo that is not acceptable by any measure.
In a supplementary document published alongside the draft Code of Conduct, the Ad Hoc Committee defended their choice to write a ''parsimonious'' Code of Conduct. In doing so, the Committee punted to the AEA journals as a venue for upholding professional conduct in the publication process. This emphasis on such a narrow venue highlights the incompleteness of the process to write and adopt a Code of Conduct that guides conduct in our profession as a whole. The supplementary document also includes a list of concrete ideas that the AEA may choose to adopt in the future to improve the profession. This list is a welcomed start to developing a full Code of Conduct (and we at WEB may respond to the specific recommendations in a future post). However, it’s relegation to the end of a supplementary document again demonstrates that the current draft of the Code of Conduct takes no explicit steps towards an improved discipline.
The Ad Hoc Committee states, in their supplementary document, that ''if the AEA decides it wants to adopt a detailed professional code of conduct ... it would need a committee with sufficient time to prepare such a document, including provisions for collecting suggestions and feedback from the profession.'' This statement echos the call that we have made here. We suggest that this work be done and that if it is not done, then the AEA will not have made progress towards a more equitable discipline.
Author: Emily Eisner