As reported, Pete Leeson and I are in London for a conference at the LSE. As we were walking around yesterday we got in a discussion about who were the top economics since 1975 whose ideas have had an influence yet who were not published in the AER, JPE or QJE. We were discounting papers and proceedings of the AEA, so papers in the AER from the meetings were not counted. Instead, you had to think of economists who were unable to place their papers in the top journals due to an intellectually conservative bias in the refereeing process yet were able to influence the intellectual culture of economsts down the road. Buchanan, Coase, Kirzner, North, and Olson are some of the names we came up with. We will have to investigate further and also check our premises on the names already listed. Who would you nominate?
The question started when Pete asked me a question about my early career at NYU, and I told him about my experience in comparative and Sovietology. Basically I argued that I decided to write primarily books in that field because I was questioning too many conventional assumptions at the same time for journal articles to work out. When writing a journal article you are usually permitted to question 1 or perhaps 2 conventional assumptions at a time, but if you question too many I argued you cannot get through the journal refereeing process. This is why I contend that Austrian economics remained a "book culture" through the 1980s and 1990s when the rest of the economics profession had become primarily a "journal culture" by 1950. On the other hand, in the 1990s journals in the field of history of economic thought and methodlogy provided outlets for work in those fields and I did publish in HOPE, JHET, JEM, etc.
Early this morning I looked up Google Scholar to see if it accuratedly reflected influence. Douglass North's Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance comes up with over 5000 citations; James Buchanan's Calculus of Consent has over 900, but his other books get in the 500 to 900 range; Mancur Olson's Logic of Collective Action received over 2000 citations; Ronald Coase's "The Problem of Social Costs" has over 3000 citations; and Israel Kirzner's Competition and Entrepreneurship has 841.
Now how do these guys compare? Paul Samuelson -- 950 for his "Pure Theory of Public Expenditure"; Robert Solow -- 2849 for his paper on growth; Ken Arrow -- 2548 for Social Choice and Individual Values. F. A. Hayek gets 1647 for "The Use of Knowledge" and 800 for The Constitution of Liberty. Miton Friedman gets 1496 for Capitalism and Freedom and 1046 for "The Role of Monetary Policy." John Maynard Keynes's General Theory comes in at 2753. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations only picks up 1978 citations, and Karl Marx's Capital comes in with 875. Andrei Shleifer (the most cited economist in the past decade), however, comes in with over 2000 citations for his paper on "Law and Finance" but also has several other papers earning close to, or more than 1000 citations per paper.
Compare this with paltry numbers of 50-60 citations that are earned by my books on the history and collapse of the Soviet system. My citation numbers are in line with Cowen, Garrison and Hoppe, White and Selgin do better in the field of free banking, and Caldwell does well in the field of history of thought and methodology, but Rizzo does worse in the field of law and economics as is the case with Salerno and Block in their respective fields. Lavoie's Rivalry and Central Planning, Caldwell's Beyond Positivism and White's Free Banking in Britain are the most cited over 100 citations each. But it is obvious that our generation of Austrians is falling way behind in the race for scholarly influence even as measured on the web. The best and most influential writers get in the 100-150 range, but not above for any one work. We should aspire to be as influential as Kirzner or Hayek. Even Mises, who many think is ignored still received over 300 citations for Human Action and over 100 citations to his "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth."
Obviously, topic and placement of the original article or book matters greatly for subsequent influence. With the increase in the number of potential outlets it is probably important to stress to young scholars to not settle for easy outlets but to keep bucking the refereeing system and work hard to place articles in as highly recognized outlets as possible. Otherwise, people may continue to have little to no impact despite publishing. In addition, one should utilize the tools emerging on the web to highlight papers and books that find a physical published outlet in a less prestigious outlet. As Tyler Cowen has stressed --- the internet is changing the entire certification relationship between author and publisher. One most always ask the question who is certifying who -- if it is the author who is lending his/her name to the journal or publisher, or is it the publisher who is certifying the author. With blogs, let alone SSRN and other scientific advertisement of research now available, perhaps even obscure outlets can still reach a wide audience. But in the end I am reminded of an incident at NYU during my 8 year stay. A junior faculty was going to earn tenure --- only 2 were granted tenure during my time there out of 10 candidates. During the debate over the successful tenure bid a letter was written by a major economist that said the following (paraphrasing since I cannot quote exactly): "The candidates work in economic theory is among the best of his cohort. Only about 5 people in the profession read his work, but those 5 really matter." I remember myself thinking at that time that there was something wrong. But now I appreciate the point. The internet might expand readership, but unless your work is reaching certain people and more importantly certain TYPES of people who are in turn using your work to advance their work (i.e., you become a productive input into the scholarly production function of others) then don't expect scholarly influence.
Use all the tools at your disposal to promote your work, but remember that your first goal should be to do high quality work that you can place in as high profile a scientific outlet as possible. If you succeed in doing that, the promoting of your work across a wide body of readers will follow.