OUR list of influential economists has attracted lots of attention, much of it critical. In no particular order, it ignores women; privileges gaffes over real influence; and leaves out the most important economists of all, central-bank governors. Some of the criticism is constructive, but much of it misunderstands how and why it was put together. This is not a ranking of the most influential economists of 2014, but a list of those economists who got most attention in the last quarter of 2014. It is not an annual event, but an experiment. Here is a fuller explanation of what we did.

Economists increasingly are a part of important public debates, wielding influence in a way that academic citations alone fail to capture. We wanted to see whose voice counted most in the public arena. We could have just made up our own qualitative list: Krugman, Piketty, Summers, etc. But we wanted to try and get a bit crunchier than that, so decided to look specifically at which economists’ opinions have had most impact online.

We partnered with Appinions, a New York startup which specialises in tracking how much attention individuals and organisations get online when they say something. We gave them a list of the top 450 authors of RePEc’s ranking, and then rounded out that list with a few suggestions of our own—among them popular bloggers such as Tyler Cowen and names such as Jeffrey Sachs who don’t feature in the top echelons of the RePEc  list.

The Appinions algorithm then tracked these names across the English-language internet, starting this September, capturing instances when they were mentioned and weighting each mention to reflect where it appeared and how many times it was mentioned. It specifically tracked a 90-day period between September 11th and December 11th. Left to its own devices, the algorithm came up with some false positives (Simon Johnson of MIT shares a name with the person who led England’s 2018 football World Cup bid, for example), so the final set of names was manually cleaned to get rid as many of these unwanted duplicates as possible. A few still got through, regrettably, but not enough to affect the ranking. 

We made a decision not to include serving central-bank governors, because their pronouncements are also the official views of the institutions they represent. Janet Yellen is the most influential economist in the world because she is the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve; Mario Draghi has the same position in Europe because of his presidency of the European Central Bank. The irony of Ms Yellen’s exclusion from the list is that it is because she is too powerful, rather than not powerful enough. It is true that, sans Yellen, the list is all-male, although that says more about the profession than anything else. (The list is also strikingly short of conservative economists, a less-remarked absence.)    

But why exclude serving governors but include other officials from the Federal Reserve, the ECB or the Bank of England? They get attention because of their job titles too, after all. The rationale was that it is less clear which of these officials have the loudest voice in public debates: Bullard or Dudley in America, say, or Praet or Coeure in the euro area. That said, there is a case for taking all policymakers out of the list, so here is the top 15 revisited without any serving central bankers or former central-bank governors.    

Rank (RePEc rank)


Institution (Nationality)

1 (244)

Jonathan Gruber

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2 (22)

Paul Krugman

Princeton University

3 (96)

Robert Shiller

Yale University

4 (98)

Ernst Fehr

Institut fur Volkswirtschaftslehre

5 (407)

Thomas Piketty

Paris School of Economics

6 (29)

Larry Summers

Harvard Business School

7 (124)

Daniel Kahneman

Princeton University

8 (146)

Alan Blinder

Princeton University

9 (4)

Joseph Stiglitz

Columbia University

10 (160)

Simon Johnson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

11 (150)

Laurence Kotlikoff

Boston University

12 (10)

Kenneth Rogoff

Harvard University

13 (702)

Justin Wolfers

University of Michigan

14 (12)

Martin Feldstein

Harvard University

15 (-)

Jeffrey Sachs

Columbia University

That still leaves the big anomaly intact: the placing of MIT’s Jonathan Gruber, who garnered enormous amounts of attention in the United States for attributing the passage of Obamacare to the “stupidity of the American voter”, among other things. Is this really influence, or is it just a media firestorm? Maybe we need to rethink the semantics. On the other hand, Mr Gruber’s name was not one that would have placed anywhere on a list of our own impressionistic judgments. That alone made the exercise interesting.