A Delayed Report on ASSA (Arpita Banerjee)

Here is another report on the Allied Social Sciences Association meetings, this one from D&S collective member and University of New Hampshire economist Arpita Banerjee.

Another social science festival is over now. For four days, San Francisco downtown had been infested by Economists. It surely has given good businesses to the hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. The grandeur and the turnover were, as every year, unmatchable by any other economics conference. Did I say Economics? Well, it surely was the annual conference of the Allied Social Science Association, but other social science disciplines were easily overpowered by Economics. And I guess that too is an annual phenomenon.

Apart from seminar sessions, the ASSA meet was, like all other years, the host of job interviews. Every now and then you would come across tense faces of interviewees which would light up in the sights of Maurice Obstfeld, Kenneth Rogoff, Jagdish Bhagwati or Joseph Stiglitz. It isn’t often that someone would look at your face as (s)he is too busy reading the name-tag hanging from your neck.

On the first day, on January 2nd, I attended the plenary session organized by Association for Social Economics (ASE) and ICAPE. Dierdre McCloskey talked about Ethics and Capitalism and Adam Smith’s position on Ethics. Nancy Folbre and Herbert Gintis were the two discussants. It was very exciting to see such a great turnout at the session. Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) and International Association For Feminist Economics (IAFFE) had organized various sessions, among which I attended the sessions “The Global Financial Crisis: Heterodox Perspectives”, “Gender and Migration”, “Women’s Work at the ASSA Meetings” and “What Difference Does Gender Make for Economic Theory”. All these sessions had a full room. Particularly, the first one on financial crisis had an overcrowded audience. I heard that other sessions on the financial crisis were similar full house. No surprise here, right?

Frequent D&S contributor and collective member Ramaa Vasudevan was one of the presenters in the session on The Global Financial Crisis. She talked about the dollar, financialization and subprime market crisis, similar to her recent Monthly Review paper. [See also Ramaa’s recent primer on financialization in D&S. —CS] I had to skip the discussion in the end to attend the session on “Microfinance, Poverty and Women’s Empowerment” organized by the Association for Economic and Development Studies on Bangladesh (AEDSB). Anyone listening to the papers presented at this session would have to agree that earning money is the key to women’s empowerment! So, does a woman working as an informal worker at a construction site and earning some bucks get to choose how many children she would bear? I don’t think so.

I was a discussant at the IAFFE organized session on “Gender and Migration”. All the papers were dealing with migrant women workers, but I particularly liked the one by Alex Julca. He was asking a very broad question, does increasing remittance due to global migration of workers make any difference in income inequality? Perhaps it creates a new kind of inequality in the native places of the migrated workers. This session was quite well attended too. The ASSA people came to count heads twice during the session.

Julie Nelson at the “Women’s Work at the ASSA Meetings” talked about how cognitive gender plays a crucial role in determining women’s participation in different social sciences. She showed two very interesting quotes from the back cover of Econometrica and a sociology journal. The descriptions of the “motto” of the two journals can quite easily be deconstructed using the modernist binary division between constructed genders. While Econometrica talks about rigorous, ‘scientific’ rational thinking, the Sociology journal seems to talk about a much more subjective approach. Robin Bartlett from Denison University, in her presentation, showed that ASSA meetings had a stark difference between male and female participation and between top and low ranked (or as Robin calls it, “unranked”) places except for a brief period when Amartya Sen was president. Martha Starr from American University concentrated on women’s work in the AER Papers and Proceedings and she too, showed the wide gender gap in the list of published papers.

Another great session was “What Difference does Gender Make for Economic Theory”, presided by Nancy Folbre. Dierdre McCloskey put a very interesting and arguable concept; that for men, conversation is often a competitive game, while it is a cooperative game for women. She also emphasized that we should not use the term “mainstream” for mainstream economics as that makes a lot of people who do not agree with the tenets, outside-mainstream. I do not see any disgrace in roaming around the periphery though! She says that we should use the term “Samuelsonian” instead of “mainstream”. Well, not a big deal I guess.

Ann Mari May from University of Nebraska-Lincoln showed the results of the survey she had conducted on how male and female economists think about methodology used in Economics, Several economic issues of recent times as well as issues about workplace. Surprisingly, though women economists seem to be pro-regulation and seem to agree upon gender differences in the workplace, they seem to not see any problem with the Economic methodology! It was puzzling to see that women seem to contribute to a consensus about “mainstream” (or Samuelsonian!) economics as science with a big S and its methodology, even after identifying the reasons behind current economic problems.

The URPE reception room was jam-packed, much to the excitement of all the members present. The economics department of the University of Utah received special recognition for its contribution towards the aim of URPE and Minqui Li from Utah received the commemorative plaque. It was great to see so many URPE members together.

The IAFFE member luncheon was similarly inspiring for a new member like me. Everybody got to know about everybody else during the ‘introduce yourself’ session. Susan Himmelweit of the Open University became the new president. Everyone is looking forward to the IAFFE annual meeting in Boston from June 26 to 28.

On last note, it was quite an interesting four-day carnival in a great city. San Francisco is a nice city, not very organic though. Its Anarchist bookstores in the Mission area, easy reach to Berkeley area and diverse population makes it quite colorful. But, like a lot of other US cities, it takes only about a mile’s walk to discover the dying economy of the neighborhoods.

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