Dale Mortensen, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on supply and demand in the labour market, died last week at the age of 74, leaving economic academia without one of its foremost labour market scholars of the past half century.
His death also left Finley Edwards, another labour market researcher, without the star player on his fantasy economics team.
An assistant professor at Colby College in Maine, Edwards is one of the more than 200 academics, grad students, and econ fans who have joined the IDEAS Fantasy Economics league, a new game housed by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
And only living economists can be on team rosters.
It all began as an April Fools’ joke on the blog of Christian Zimmermann, an assistant vice president in the St. Louis Fed’s research department and the league’s creator/commissioner.
“One cannot short an economist,” Zimmermann quipped then about his phony fantasy league.
But after he hit publish, “I got emails saying, ‘Hey this is actually a good idea. I want to participate,'” Zimmermann said. So he
spent a weekend programming the game.
Zimmermann oversees RePEc, a massive database of 1.5 million research documents that also puts out a popular ranking system of economists. RePEc tracks citations, number of downloads, and other metrics to reach its definitive author rankings.
That meant that, for Zimmermann, creating a fantasy league out of RePEc’s database was relatively simple. Just make a league that would allow players to chair their own virtual econ departments and staff them with the real economists that RePEc already scores.
How it works
You can join the league by creating an author profile (Zimmermann figured most of the players will be academics themselves). Here’s my home portal, where I can click on a variety of options.
Players are given a random draw of economists distributed across the rankings. There’s no “draft” and there’s no real season — academia never starts and stops. Departments have 30 slots but only 20 can be activated for scoring, so everyone else rides the bench.
Other than that there aren’t that many rules. Just no duplicates, dead economists, or owning yourself.
Players are given 100 “utils” in which to buy and sell their economists on the open market. Let’s go ahead and put Timothy J. Besley, a London School of Economics economist interested in political economy, on the open market. Besley has his own Wikipedia page so I’m going to start the bidding at 10 utils. My team:
Also, I’ve put in a bid for Robert M. Stern, of the University of Michigan. He was on the market for 16 utils. Stern’s research has “
focused on multilateral trade agreements and the economic effects of regional trading arrangements,” according to his bio. I think he’s a steal at 17 utils.
Every month, when RePEc’s system updates, so do the fantasy league standings. As you can see, many players choose to go with a team alias as opposed to their visable author profile.
“In real life when you build a department, you want to hire people that are prospects,” Zimmermann said. “In this fantasy league, it’s just the same. You really want to acquire people that are going to be doing well in the next 10 years.”
In other words, you want the sleeper picks. Ask yourself: Who is going to cost 1 util and then put out some game-changing working papers?
Edwards agrees that you have to look for the rising stars. “It’s a Moneyball type strategy,” he said. “Looking for undervalued economists and trying to invest, or trying to divest in overvalued economists.”
“As economists we’re drawn to numbers and rankings,” said Edwards, whose dead economist was automatically replaced with Columbia University’s Pierre-Andre Chiappori. “It’s a little bit of a chance to leverage the information you have.”
It’s also about bragging rights. Zimmermann says he saw one economist boasting on Twitter that he was trading higher than another scholar who happened to be one of his major ideological opponents.
And not unlike fantasy football, sometimes that one friend infuriatingly ends up with a crazy-unfair roster. “I signed up for the league, and I happened to get one of this year’s Nobel Prize winners (Robert Shiller), so I immediately put him on the market,” says Daryl Fairchild, a grad student at the University of Chicago.
“I haven’t checked back into the website since then.”
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