Harvard economist Martin Feldstein is calling it quits after 30 years of running the National Bureau of Economic Research. I think this is a really big deal: Feldstein took over a mostly moribund NBER in 1977 and established it as possibly the most important arbiter–certainly more important than any one academic journal–of what constituted respectable, serious economics in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. (Full disclosure: Years ago I used to earn small bucks writing summaries of NBER working papers.)
To my layman’s eyes, Feldstein did a pretty great job, supporting all sorts of interesting research that questioned economic certainties (and his own conservative political beliefs) while at the same time enforcing enough methodological conformity that the whole project didn’t descend into cacaphony. He allowed for controversy and change, but not too much controversy and change. Now I’m sure there are a lot of economists outside the Chicago-Harvard-MIT-Northwestern-Penn-Berkeley-NYU-Princeton-Stanford-Yale circuit who aren’t such big fans. But as a journalist who on occasion needs to figure out what economists know about this issue or that, I’ve found the NBER’s working paper archive to be a wonderfully reliable guide. And I hope it stays that way in the post-Feldstein era.