Who does original research?

[Cross posted from History of Economics Playgroundoriginal here]

INET is all about thinking new things, and indeed academia is supposed to inspire great thoughts. So why are there so little original research in economics? I don’t mean in total, but think of it as a percentage of the total output. The truly great research is pretty thin on the ground if you think of it that way, and in fact, even the mildly interesting is pretty thin. All this introspection was brought on by reading Richard Hammings talk “You and your research” (given some 25 years ago) – where he asks us to do Great research. ‘Us’ are the social scientists, scientists or all researchers out there. It is not clear to me that we economists follow his advice at many stages of our careers.

I am starting to think that doing original research is something we need to choose to do. And we need to actively choose it. Reading Dan Pink’s book on career advice: One of his key points is to stop doing jobs that are instrumental – you do them to achieve something else – and make sure you do a job (or research) which is fundamental – where we do things because we are interested. That rings some bells. Smith, Marx, Bentham, Marshall, Leontief, Keynes, Friedman and others were definetly fundamentalists in this sense. Deirdre McCloskey has talked about exactly this in economics, so perhaps there is something more fundamental to it. I think Dan Pink’s advice carries over, so I share it, via Garr Reynold’s slides here (but check out the book, or website).

Otherwise, we will all probably end up in the academic cycle that Jorge Cham has elegantly illustrated below. And I guess we all want to do great research – right?