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Posted at 9:44 AM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Who employs economists?

By Ezra Klein

We do, apparently:

More than half — 53 percent — of all economists in the United States are employed by the government.

(Hat tip: Catherine Rampell.)

By Ezra Klein  | December 2, 2010; 9:44 AM ET
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Do we also keep the Martians under wraps?

(I can't be the only person that read this post and was reminded of the Stonecutters)

Posted by: MosBen | December 2, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

This doesn't surprise me one bit. Look at any rule-making document and you'll see a whole host of economic analysis for the various procedural requirements imposed over the years. Depending on how much section-by-section analysis is necessary, the economic analysis may well constitute the bulk of a rule's preamble.

It's important to remember that, for all the discussion conservatives have about decreasing the size of government, the impact of additional procedural hurdles to overcome before the government can govern is a larger but slower government, as the federal bureaucracy ends up taking more people to do the same job, only more slowly and with more cruft attached.

Posted by: Anonymous_Coward | December 2, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Why is this at all surprising? After all even the free market types at GMU all dine on the government dole.

You have schools and you have the federal government. I'm surprised its only 53%, but I guess it depends on what is classified as an economist.

Posted by: endaround | December 2, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

This almost kills me, but I have to defend economists. The government puts out some vital economic statistics and analysis, that only it has the power to generate. Those stats are often misread by some of the less than awesome economists who work for it like Romer, but overall these people do a good job.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 2, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

So much of what they do is a public good. The positive externalities are gigantic. They're like basic research scientists. And the figure is probably far bigger if you include university economists, who are largely paid for by the government, and if you only look at PhD economists (non-PhDs may be doing a lot of work that's not economics).

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 2, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse


i love how you couldn't help but get that jab at Romer! But at least you weren't slobbering all over yourself to proclaim them God's gift to the world like, er, um.

Posted by: visionbrkr | December 2, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse


I am who I am, and you know Ezra adores Romer. If you want to see funny, read my comment on the Barry Eichengreen post. I genuinely blew a gasket on that one.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 2, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Reading the section in it's entirety helps interpret that percentage. Here it is:

"Economists held about 14,600 jobs in 2008. Government employed 53 percent of economists, in a wide range of agencies, with 31 percent in Federal Government and 22 percent in State and local government. The remaining jobs were spread throughout private industry, particularly in scientific research and development services and management, scientific, and technical consulting services. A number of economists combine a full-time job in government, academia, or business with part-time or consulting work in another setting.

Employment of economists is concentrated in large cities. Some work abroad for companies with major international operations, for U.S. Government agencies, and for international organizations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations.

In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, economists who hold faculty positions in colleges and universities are counted as postsecondary teachers."

It's not entirely surprising that a large fraction of economists are found in the public sector, however, as many of them are employed by statistical agencies to produce and analyze confidential business, trade, and labor data (BEA, BLS, Census, Commerce, Labor). Others analyze study the impact of planned policies (CBO, Treasury, CEA, OMB). The idea is that at least some of our policy making is based on actual analysis and data - it doesn't always work but I like to think better policy gets made because of analysis and data provided by economists in the public sector.

Posted by: DCeconomist | December 2, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

As a former federal economist and a semi-retired business economist I suspect
that the number is actually much higher than 43%, especially if you count economist employed in public colleges as government employees.

I work in Boston, a major center of employment for economist and I estimate that their are probably something on the order of 75 to 100 business economist in the Boston metro area. Interestingly, the National Association for Business Economics has chapters in only about half of the states.

Posted by: seerrees | December 2, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

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