Letter to the AEA "strongly" Urging for the Adoption of a Code of Ethics

Robert E. Hall
American Economic Association
2014 Broadway, Suite 305
Nashville, TN 37203

January 3, 2011

Dear Dr. Hall,

We strongly urge the American Economic Association (AEA) to adopt a code of ethics that requires disclosure of potential conflicts of interest that can arise between economists' roles as economic experts and as paid consultants, principals or agents for private firms. As the economics profession serves a prominent role in economic policy, the public's confidence in the integrity of the profession will, in part, depend on how the issue of potential conflicts of interest is addressed. We believe that the AEA, as the main professional organization of the economics profession, should take the lead on creating and adopting a code of ethics to address this issue.

More specifically we propose that the AEA adopt a code modeled on that of the American Sociological Association. |1| This code could state that: "Economists should maintain the highest degree of integrity in their professional work and avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflict. Moreover, economists should disclose relevant sources of financial support and relevant personal or professional relationships that may have the appearance or potential for a conflict of interest in public speeches and writing, as well as in academic publications."

This issue has taken on greater salience as the recent financial crisis has highlighted economists' potentially conflicting roles that may have affected their real or perceived impartiality as analysts and experts. For example, in an assessment of 19 economists who have played prominent and influential roles in recent public policy debates, Gerald Epstein and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth found that 13 out of 19 economists had private financial affiliations indicative of some possible conflicts of interest, but only 5 had clearly and publicly revealed their affiliations. |2| A Reuters study of Congressional testimony by academics (many but not all of whom are economists) analyzed "… 96 testimonies given by 82 academics to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee between late 2008 and early 2010 -- as lawmakers debated the biggest overhaul of financial regulation since the 1930s." They found that "…roughly a third (of the academics) did not reveal their financial affiliations in their testimonies, based on a comparison of the text of their testimonies available on the Congressional committees' websites with their resumes available online." |3|

Economics is unusual among the social science professions in that it lacks professional ethical codes or guidelines. |4| In addition to the American Sociological Association, the American Anthropology Association has a code of ethics. Similarly, the American Psychology Association and the American Statistical Association both have guidelines for ethics. These codes and guidelines vary in several ways: some demand that professional members simply reveal potential conflicts; others demand that they do whatever they can to avoid or end such conflicts. |5|

We anticipate that objections may be raised to this proposal for a code of ethics. First, some may argue that this code would be redundant since many academic economists are already working under a conflict of interest policy as put forth by their respective universities. But these codes primarily proscribe conduct that would conflict with the interests of their universities and do not address potential conflicts with respect to the broader public or government. Moreover, many economists are not academic economists and they too should be held to uniform standards of professional conduct.

Second, some economists may believe that listing their paid positions on their CVs and/or biographies constitutes a sufficient act of disclosure. However, we do not think this is sufficient disclosure. It is not reasonable to expect the public to look up each expert's CV and biography when trying to assess their statements. Our proposed code would require economists to disclose all relevant potential conflicts of interest in all relevant situations, particularly in academic articles, general media pieces, speeches and testimonies.

In conclusion, we strongly urge that the AEA create and then promote adherence to a professional code of ethics that at a minimum requires transparency with respect to potential conflicts of interest. We believe this would be an important and necessary step toward enhancing the credibility and integrity of the profession.

We urge the AEA to take up this matter at its first opportunity.


Gerald Epstein, Professor of Economics and Chair, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Organizational affiliations are for identification purposes only, and do not indicate endorsement by the institutions below.

  • George Akerlof, University of California, Berkeley
  • Tanweer Akram, ING Investment Management
  • Randy Albelda, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Piruz Alemi, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
  • Sylvia A. Allegretto, University of California, Berkeley
  • Jack Amariglio, Merrimack College
  • Alice Amsden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Eileen Appelbaum, Center for Economic and Policy Research
  • Enid Arvidson, University of Texas, Arlington
  • Michael Ash, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Glen Atkinson, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Lee Badgett, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • El-hadj Bah, University of Auckland
  • Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research
  • Erdogan Bakir, Bucknell University
  • Radhika Balakrishnan, Rutgers
  • Fabian Balardini, Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York
  • Nina Banks, Bucknell University
  • David Barkin, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Xochimilco
  • John Barnshaw, University of South Florida
  • Paul Bartlett, Saint Peter's College
  • Deepankar Basu, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Dale Belman, Michigan State University
  • Suzanne Bergeron, University of Michigan, Dearborn
  • Gunseli Berik, University of Utah
  • Cihan Bilginsoy, University of Utah
  • Cyrus Bina, University of Minnesota, Morris
  • Ron Blackwell, AFL-CIO
  • Marion Blute, University of Toronto
  • Raford Boddy, San Diego State University
  • Les Boden, Boston University
  • Peter Bohmer, The Evergreen State College
  • Howard Botwinick, State University of New York, Cortland
  • Roger Even Bove, West Chester University
  • James K. Boyce, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Elissa Braunstein, Colorado State University
  • Clair Brown, University of California, Berkeley
  • Christopher Brown, Arkansas State University
  • Michael Brün, Illinois State University
  • Robert Buchele, Smith College
  • Leonardo Burlamaqui, The Ford Foundation
  • Antonio Callari, Franklin and Marshall College
  • Al Campbell, University of Utah
  • Jim Campen, University of Massachusetts
  • Gerard Caprio, Williams College
  • Molly Scott Cato, Cardiff School of Management
  • Katherine Chalmers, California State University, Sacramento
  • Howard Chernick, Hunter College, City University of New York
  • Robert Chernomas, University of Manitoba
  • Lynne Chester, University of Sydney
  • Kimberly Christensen, Sarah Lawrence College
  • Jens Christiansen, Mount Holyoke College
  • HeeKyoung Chun, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Anne P. Cobb, Empire State College
  • Steve Cohn, Knox College
  • J. Kevin Crocker, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • James Crotty, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Natalia Czap, University of Michigan, Dearborn
  • Omar Dahi, Hampshire College
  • Anita Dancs, Western New England College
  • Jane D'Arista, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Paul Davidson, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics
  • Andy Denis, City University London
  • James Devine, Loyola Marymount University
  • Geert Dhondt, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York
  • Paul L. Dion, Rhode Island Department of Revenue
  • Randall Dodd, Financial Policy Forum
  • Peter Dorman, The Evergreen State College
  • Doug Dowd, University of Modena
  • Arindrajit Dube, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Amitava Dutt, University of Notre Dame
  • Richard Edwards, University of Nebraska
  • Catherine S. Elliott, New College of Florida
  • Wolfram Elsner, University of Bremen
  • Chris Erickson, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Bilge Erten, Drew University
  • Sasan Fayazmanesh, California State University, Fresno
  • Susan Feiner, University of Southern Maine
  • Marianne Ferber, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
  • Rudy Fichtenbaum, Wright State University
  • Daniel K. Finn, St. John's University
  • Ellen Fitzpatrick, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
  • Ian Fletcher, U.S. Business & Industry Council
  • Nancy Folbre, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Duncan K. Foley, The New School
  • Josh Frank, Center for Responsible Lending
  • Alan Freeman, Greater London Authority.
  • Richard B. Freeman, Harvard University
  • Gerald Friedman, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Anthony Gabb, St. John's University
  • Kevin Gallagher, Boston University
  • John Luke Gallup, Portland State University
  • Lorenzo Garbo, University of Redlands
  • Robert Garnett, Texas Christian University
  • Arlene Geiger, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York
  • David George, La Salle University
  • Mwangi wa Gthnji, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • David Gold, The New School
  • Deborah Goldsmith, City College of San Francisco
  • Don Goldstein, Allegheny College
  • Jonathan Goldstein, Bowdoin College
  • Eban Goodstein, Bard College
  • John Gowdy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Ilene Grabel, University of Denver
  • Ulla Grapard, Colgate University
  • Michael Greenberger, University of Maryland
  • Daphne Greenwood, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Jo Marie Griesgraber, New Rules for Global Finance
  • Adam Grossberg, Trinity College
  • Christopher Gunn, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • Robert Guttmann, Hofstra University
  • Alan Haight, State University of New York, Cortland
  • John Battaile Hall, Portland State University
  • Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women's Policy Research
  • John T. Harvey, Texas Christian University
  • F. Gregory Hayden, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Carol Heim, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • James Heintz, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets Media
  • John F. Henry, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Thea Hensel, VF Corporation
  • Barry Herman, The New School
  • Gillian Hewitson, University of Sydney
  • Marianne Hill, Center for Policy Research and Planning, MS
  • Geoffrey M. Hodgson, University of Hertfordshire
  • David Howell, The New School
  • Candace Howes, Connecticut College
  • Amy Ickowitz, Clark University
  • Sanford M. Jacoby, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Arjun Jayadev, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Frederic B. Jennings Jr., Center for Ecological Economic and Ethical Education
  • Tae-Hee Jo, Buffalo State College
  • Robert Johnson, Institute for New Economic Thinking; Roosevelt Institute
  • Alison Snow Jones, Drexel University
  • Kenneth D. Jones, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  • Rajani Kanth, Harvard University
  • Thomas Kavet, Vermont Legislature
  • Emily Kawano, Center for Popular Economics
  • Farida C. Khan, University of Wisconsin, Parkside
  • Marlene Kim, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Mary King, Portland State University
  • Steven Klees, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Mark Klinedinst, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Tim Koechlin, Vassar College
  • Andrew I. Kohen, James Madison University
  • Harry Konstantinidis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Sherrie A. Kossoudji, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • David Kotz, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Peter Karl Kresl, Bucknell University
  • Jill Kriesky, West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy
  • James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario
  • David Laibman, Brooklyn College and Graduate School, City University of New York
  • Thomas Lambert, Indiana University Southeast
  • June Lapidus, Roosevelt University
  • Mehrene Larudee, Earlham University
  • William Lazonick, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • Frederic Lee, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Charles Levenstein, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • Margaret Levenstein, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Frank Levy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Carlos F. Liard-Muriente, Central Connecticut State University
  • Peter M. Lichtenstein, Boise State University
  • Panagis Liossatos, Florida International University
  • Catherine Lynde, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Sean MacDonald, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York
  • Arthur MacEwan, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Jeff Madrick, The New School
  • Jean Maier, Windsor, California
  • Mark Maier, Glendale Community College
  • Thomas Masterson, Bard College
  • Julie Matthaei, Wellesley College
  • Peter Hans Matthews, Middlebury College
  • Deirdre N. McCloskey, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Elaine McCrate, University of Vermont
  • Terrence McDonough, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Kate McGovern, Springfield College
  • Ric McIntyre, University of Rhode Island
  • Jim McNulty, Florida Atlantic University
  • Michael Meeropol, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
  • Emel Memis, Ankara University
  • John Messier, University of Maine, Farmington
  • Peter Meyer, University of Louisville
  • Marcelo Milan, University of Wisconsin, Parkside
  • William Milberg, The New School
  • John Miller, Wheaton College
  • Fred Moseley, Mount Holyoke College
  • Adil Mouhammed, University of Illinois, Springfield
  • Catherine P. Mulder, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
  • Jason Burke Murphy, Elms College
  • C.W.M. (Ro) Naastepad, Delft University of Technology
  • Kamran Nayeri, University of California, Berkeley
  • Edward Nell, The New School
  • Julie A. Nelson, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Laurie Nisonoff, Hampshire College
  • Jose Antonio Ocampo, Columbia University
  • Jennifer Olmsted, Drew University
  • Erik Olsen, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Oladele Omosegbon, Indiana Wesleyan University
  • Ozgur Orhangazi, Roosevelt University
  • Wafa Hakim Orman, University of Alabama, Huntsville
  • Aaron Pacitti, Siena College
  • Spencer Pack, Connecticut College
  • Jairo Parada, Universidad del Norte, Colombia
  • Pranee Parkeenvincha, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Richard Parker, Harvard University
  • James Parrott, Fiscal Policy Institute
  • Sanjay Paul, Elizabethtown College
  • Michael Perelman, California State University, Chico
  • V. Spike Peterson, University of Arizona
  • Lynda Pickbourn, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Bruce Pietrykowski, University of Michigan, Dearborn
  • Eugenia Pires, University of London
  • Robert Pollin, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Steven Pressman, Monmouth University
  • Frederic L. Pryor, Swarthmore College
  • Paddy Quick, St. Francis College
  • Susan Randolph, University of Connecticut
  • Mohan Rao, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Angelo Reati, Commission of the European Union
  • Sanjay G. Reddy, The New School
  • Miriam Rehm, The New School
  • Michael Reich, University of California, Berkeley
  • Stephen Resnick, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Bruce Roberts, University of Southern Maine
  • John Roche, St John Fisher College
  • Louis-Philippe Rochon, Laurentian University
  • Charles P. Rock, Rollins College
  • Joel Rogers, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Christina Romer, University of California, Berkeley
  • David Romer, University of California, Berkeley
  • Frank Roosevelt, Sarah Lawrence College
  • Samuel Rosenberg, Roosevelt University
  • Basel Saleh, Radford University
  • Daniel Saros, Valparaiso University
  • Lisa Saunders, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • James Sawyer, Seattle University
  • Harwood D. Schaffer, University of Tennessee
  • John Schmitt, Center for Economic and Policy Research
  • Markus Schneider, University of Denver
  • Juliet Schor, Boston College
  • Mechthild Schrooten, University of Bremen
  • Eric A. Schutz, Rollins College
  • Elliott Sclar, Columbia University
  • Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Stephanie Seguino, University of Vermont
  • Janet Seiz, Grinnell College
  • Mark Setterfield, Trinity College
  • Jean Shackelford, Bucknell University
  • Laurence Shute, California State Polytechnic University
  • Peter Skott, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Peter Spiegler, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Janet Spitz, The College of Saint Rose.
  • James Ronald Stanfield, Colorado State University
  • Martha Starr, American University
  • James B. Stewart, Penn State University
  • Daniel Stone, Oregon State University
  • Servaas Storm, Delft University of Technology
  • Myra H. Strober, Stanford University
  • B. Katherine Swartz, Harvard University
  • Daniele Tavani, Colorado State University
  • Kenna C. Taylor, Rollins College
  • Irina A. Telyukova, University of California, San Diego
  • Chris Tilly, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Sarah Tinkler, Portland State University
  • Renee Toback, Yonkers, New York
  • Zdravka Todorova, Wright State University
  • Mariano Torras, Adelphi University
  • Brandon Tracy, World Bank
  • Eric Tymoigne, Lewis & Clark College
  • Fatma Gul Unal, United Nations Development Programme
  • Marjolein van der Veen, Shoreline Community College
  • William Van Lear, Belmont Abbey College
  • Irene van Staveren, Erasmus University
  • Ramaa Vasudevan, Colorado State University, Fort Colllins
  • Roberto Veneziani, Queen Mary University
  • Eric Verhoogen, Columbia University
  • Matías Vernengo, University of Utah
  • Emily Vidrine, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • Tonia L. Warnecke, Rollins College
  • John Weeks, University of London
  • Scott A. Weir, Wake Technical Community College
  • Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan
  • Christian Weller, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Jeannette Wicks-Lim, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Charles Wilber, University of Notre Dame
  • Jon Wisman, American University
  • Martin Wolfson, University of Notre Dame
  • Paul J. Wolfson, Dartmouth College
  • L. Randall Wray, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Yavuz Yaar, University of Denver
  • David A. Zalewski, Providence College
  • Stephen Ziliak, Roosevelt University
  • Ben Zipperer, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Michael Zweig, State University of New York, Stony Brook


1. The ASA code requires that "Sociologists maintain the highest degree of integrity in their professional work and avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflict." With respect to transparency, the sociologists' code requires that: "Sociologists disclose relevant sources of financial support and relevant personal or professional relationships that may have the appearance or potential for a conflict of interest to an employer or client, to the sponsors of their professional work, or in public speeches and writing." www.asanet.org/images/asa/docs/pdf/CodeofEthics.pdf [Back]

2. See Financial Economists, Financial Interests and Dark Corners of the Meltdown: It's Time to Set Ethical Standards for the Economics Profession [Back]

3. See Emily Fliter, Kristina Cooke and Pedro Da Costa, "Special Report: For Some Disclosure is Academic" http://www.portfolio.com/business-news/reuters/2010/12/20/special-report-for-some-professors-disclosure-isacademic#ixzz18sqrBmnL [Back]

4. See George DeMartino, The Economist's Oath: On the need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics. [Back]

5. The American Psychologists Association declares in their ethics guideline that psychologists should avoid a professional role that could impair their objectivity to carrying out their duties as psychologists. The American Statistical Association demands that statisticians should not only disclose all conflicts of interest but they should also resolve them. [Back]

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