What Do You Call 12,000 Economists Trudging Through Snow?

Downtown Philadelphia is the center of the world this weekend for academic economists. Even a heavy snowfall couldn’t put a damper on the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations, which has record-breaking attendance this year of more than 12,000. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is making one of his final appearances here before his eight years in the job end at the end of January. At least half a dozen Nobel laureates are in attendance.

This isn’t the place to come if you just want to know something basic, such as how the economy is doing. But it’s ideal if you want to know the latest thinking about “macroeconomics at the zero lower bound” or “deforestation, land-use change and contracts.”

In addition to the American Economic Association, the meeting includes the American Finance Association and such smaller groups as the Association for Christian Economists and the Korea-America Economic Association. Registered as of Friday morning were 8,832 people from the U.S., 392 from Canada, 337 from China, and 327 from the United Kingdom, as well as one each from Vatican State, Senegal, Nepal, and Mongolia. Those figures understate the international contingent because many foreign nationals teach or study in the U.S.

About one-quarter of the attendees are students, most of whom are looking for a job. Employers, including universities and the Federal Reserve, have booked more than 600 suites for interviews. Schools that can’t afford suites are meeting applicants at tables in the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center. “For applicants, this is their one shot to get a job for another year. That’s why a lot of them are sweating it,” says Gwyn Loftis, the assistant convention manager.

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