The ambush of economist David Card

How a heterodox opinion on minimum wage laws brought down the wrath of the Chicago school

By Andrew Leonard
July 12, 2007 1:02AM (UTC)
main article image

Alex Tabarrok, writing at the hugely popular economics blog Marginal Revolution, professes himself sorely exasperated by claims made in a New York Times article asserting that economists who don't toe the Milton Friedman free-market line are ostracized by their colleagues.

It beggars belief when economists at Princeton, Harvard and Berkeley claim that they are lone voices in the wilderness boldly striking heterodox positions against the hegemony of "free market economics."

David Card, for example, says "You lose your ticket as a certified economist if you don't say any kind of price regulation is bad and free trade is good." Really? Card and Krueger's famous paper on the minimum wage was a 1993 NBER working paper published in the AER in 1994. What happened then in 1995? Was Card decertified, drummed out of the profession, vilified by his peers? Hardly, in 1995 David Card was honored (deservedly imho) by the American Economic Association with the John Bates Clark medal.

I was immediately reminded of a passage in David Warsh's illuminating work of economic history, "Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations," that pertains to this precise question.


The year is 1996; the scene: the annual convention of the American Economic Association.

The most startling event of the meetings was the ambush of David Card. Card had been awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to the American economist who is judged by a panel of his peers to have made the greatest contribution by the age of forty. Card was handsome, rich, and winsome. But he had coauthored a controversial book about experiences with the minimum-wage law that had angered the more conservative of his fellow labor economists. In a session just before the award, a group of Chicagoans on the dais jumped him with scathing critiques of his statistical methods. So on what otherwise would have been one of the happiest afternoons of his life, Card was rendered speechless. Nothing further was said at the time, but the incident would be long remembered.

Is being rendered speechless by a scathing critique of one's statistical methods equivalent to being "vilified" by one's peers? Perhaps not. But one suspects that a frew such incidents might be what led Card to make his comments to the New York Times.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew LeonardFOLLOW koxinga21LIKE Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Economics Globalization How The World Works U.s. Economy