The 25 Most Influential Economics Programs and the 25 Most Influential Economists

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The well-known Harvard economist Greg Mankiw recently blogged about a new website called AcademicInfluence.com. This site features some fascinating machine-learning tools for determining the most influential schools by discipline as well as the most influential faculty in those disciplines. You can even toggle the time-frame in which to gauge influence. If you do this for the years 1970-2020 (thus focusing on contemporary scholars), you get the following ranking of the top 25 economics programs in the U.S.:

AcademicInfluence.com Ranking of Top Economics Programs

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Chicago
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  4. Princeton University
  5. Stanford University
  6. Columbia University
  7. Yale University
  8. University of California, Berkeley
  9. New York University
  10. University of Pennsylvania
  11. Cornell University
  12. University of Michigan
  13. Northwestern University
  14. George Mason University
  15. Johns Hopkins University
  16. University of California, Los Angeles
  17. University of Minnesota
  18. Carnegie Mellon University
  19. Duke University
  20. University of Wisconsin, Madison
  21. University of Virginia
  22. Rutgers University
  23. Graduate Center, CUNY
  24. University of Rochester
  25. Georgetown University

What’s interesting about this ranking is that it makes good sense (no schools seem out of place compare a comparable U.S. News ranking of economics programs) and yet this ranking was generated entirely via a machine-learning algorithm that assesses disciplinary influence based on data from Wikipedia.org, Crossref.org, etc. U.S. News, by contrast, bases its rankings entirely on reputation surveys (see its methodology statement for rankings of doctoral programs in the social sciences, which includes economics).

The U.S. News ranking is less granular than the AcademicInfluence.com ranking, showing lots of schools as tied in terms of their influence in economics. Here are the top 25 economics schools according to the U.S. News ranking:

U.S. News Ranking of Top Economics Programs

1. [6-place tie] Harvard University
1. [6-place tie] Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]
1. [6-place tie] Princeton University
1. [6-place tie] Stanford University
1. [6-place tie] University of California, Berkeley
1. [6-place tie] Yale University
7. [2-place tie] Northwestern University
7. [2-place tie] University of Chicago
9. Columbia University
10. University of Pennsylvania
11. New York University
12. [4-place tie] University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
12. [4-place tie] University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
12. [4-place tie] University of Michigan
12. [4-place tie] University of Wisconsin, Madison
16. [3-place tie] Cornell University
16. [3-place tie] Duke University
16. [3-place tie] University of Minnesota
19. Brown University
20. Carnegie Mellon University
21. [2-place tie] University of Maryland, College Park
21. [2-place tie] University of Rochester
23. [2-place tie] Boston University
23. [2-place tie] Johns Hopkins University
25. [2-place tie] Boston College
25. [2-place tie] Pennsylvania State University

The schools on both lists are largely identical, so it seems that both rankings are in the right ballpark for gauging academic excellence in the field of economics. But the order of the schools in both lists differs significantly, with the U.S. News ranking exhibiting lots of ties. The sheer number of these ties seems unrealistic, especially in making the top 6 schools equivalent. Is it really the case that Yale is as good as Harvard in economics, and is it really the case that both are better than the University of Chicago in economics?

Unlike the U.S. News approach, which is based on reputational surveys, the AcademicInfluence.com claims to gauge the influence of these schools in terms of the influence of the people affiliated with them (faculty and alumni). Without turning to AcademicInfluence.com’s ranking engine for influential academics, which is supposed to accomplish this feat (more on this below), I therefore decided simply to look at Nobel laureates in economics and match them up with the schools where they have been affiliated (see the Wikipedia article “List of Nobel Memorial Prize Laureates in Economics“).

The Nobel Prize in Economics has been awarded only since 1969, so this list of Nobel prize winners in economics mirrors the 1970 to 2020 ranking window that I chose for the AcademicInfluence.com ranking of economics programs.

During that time, the University of Chicago has tended to have the most affiliated Nobel laureates in economics. As the Wikipedia article cited above states; “As of October 2018, the institution with the most affiliated laureates in economic sciences is the University of Chicago, which has 32 affiliated laureates.” Wikipedia then references a related article titled “List of Nobel Laureates by University Affiliation.”

In this last article, the numbers have been updated to 2020, and what we find is that the top three schools are virtually in a dead heat for Nobel Prizes awarded in economics, and these are MIT, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. The next four after them then form a natural cluster, and they are Stanford, UC Berkeley, Yale, and Princeton. This suggests a ranking very close to the AcademicInfluence.com ranking (swap out Columbia for UC Berkeley).

So it seems that on the basis of Nobel Prizes awarded in economics, the AcademicInfluence.com ranking is more accurate in gauging the best economics programs than the U.S. News ranking. But we can cast the net wider than just Nobel Prize winners in economics.

In addition to using its InfluenceRanking engine to rank schools for influence by disciplines, AcademicInfluence.com also uses this engine to rank people by their influence in disciplines. If we now use the AcademicInfluence engine to drill down on the influencers in economics for the period 1970-2020, we get the following influence ranking of U.S. economists. Included next to each name is their primary academic affiliation:

AcademicInfluence.com Ranking of Top Academic Economists

  1. Paul Krugman, Princeton University
  2. Milton Friedman, University of Chicago
  3. Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University
  4. Paul Samuelson, MIT
  5. Gary Becker, University of Chicago
  6. Herman Daly, University of Maryland
  7. Robert Solow, MIT
  8. George Akerlof, Georgetown
  9. Murray Rothbard, University of Nevada
  10. Kenneth Arrow, Harvard
  11. Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia
  12. Nancy Folbre, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  13. James Buchanan, George Mason University
  14. Robert Costanza, Australian National University
  15. Richard Thaler, University of Chicago
  16. Eric Maskin, Harvard
  17. Abhijit Banerjee, MIT
  18. Greg Mankiw, Harvard (cited at the start of this article)
  19. Julie Nelson, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  20. Kevin Carson, Center for a Stateless Society
  21. Richard Posner, University of Chicago
  22. Arthur Laffer, University of Chicago
  23. Vernon Smith, George Mason University
  24. Roger Myerson, University of Chicago
  25. Cass Sunstein, Harvard …

AcademicInfluence.com extends this list to hundreds of economists. Yet even this brief list shows the dominating role of Harvard, University of Chicago, and MIT in the field of economics. At the same time, it also underscores other schools with highly influential economists. Interestingly, not only is Princeton’s Paul Krugman at the very top of this list, but AcademicInfluence.com also has an engaging interview with him: