Review of Industrial Organization 17: 371–384, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Do Economic Journals Obey Economic
Department of Economics, Macquarie University, Sydney NSW 2109, Australia
Abstract. What insures that the system of referred journals works well? The responsibility seems
not to lie in the prevailing governance structure. The largely non-proﬁt form which characterizes
these journals insures a lack of accountability. Editors and referees are not provided with simple
incentives to perform their intended roles well. Survey material indicates that in fact editors exert little
if any control over the referees employed. However, contrary to expectations, referees are generally
conceded to perform at a high level. What drives the process is not narrow self-interest but rather
Key words: Economic journals, nonproﬁt organizations, referees.
JEL Classiﬁcation: L21, L31.
Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good
is not original, and the part that is original is not good (Samuel
Johnson quoted in Bernard 1990, p. 75).
Graham Green used to divide his work between serious novels and light entertain-
ments. Using this criterion, it would be tempting to categorise any examination of
the economics profession as more froth than substance. Few outsiders ﬁnd eco-
nomists fascinating. The world remains wisely content in its ignorance. But since
for whatever reason or misadventure we all belong to this limited and limiting club,
we do ﬁnd such self-examinations interesting.
One of the most overworked of these self-referential veins has been the area
of academic publications. This is unsurprising. Promotion, reputation, and perhaps
professional self-esteem depend on writing articles that appear in refereed journ-
The more prestigious the journal, the more value to be gained. Though articles
analyzing all aspects of the publishing process are numerous, few have examined
I would like to thank Geoff Shepherd (University of Massachusetts) for his patience in bringing
this paper to fruition as well as Ilene Grabel (Denver University) for her general interest and enthu-
siasm. I would also like to acknowledge a number of irate anonymous and not so anonymous editors
and referees who forced me to defend and rethink my argument. Unfortunately none of the blame for
errors can be shifted onto their shoulders.
For those interested in an attempt to estimate the monetary reward for publication see
Hamermesh et al. (1982).