American economic association (AEA) – definition and meaning

The American Economic Association (AEA), which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, is a learned society in the field of economics. It is a professional organization of economists working mainly in US universities. Today, the AEA also has many non-economists among its members.

The AEA has been publishing the American Economic Review since 1911, a prestigious economics journal.

A group of young economists founded the AEA in Saratoga, New York in 1885. The economists had been trained in the German Historical School. Also called the German Historical School of Jurisprudence, it was a 19th-century movement in the study of German law.

The School’s philosophy is based on the teachings and writings of Gustav von Hugo and Friedrich Carl von Savigny. They believed that only by the rational deduction of humankind could we discover law.

The law is not an arbitrary grouping of regulations that some authority lays down. Rather, the law is the expression of people’s convictions, said von Hugo and von Savigny.

The Association has been under the control of academics since 1900. On February 3rd, 1923, it was incorporated in Washington DC.

First President American Economic AssociationFrancis Amasa Walker (1840-1897) was the American Economic Association’s first President (1886-1892). Walker was an economist, statistician, journalist, educator, academic administrator, and military officer in the Union Army. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Freedom of speech and impartiality

The Association has three main aims. To:

1. Encourage economic research, especially the statistical and historical study of the actual conditions of industrial life.

2. Publish articles on economic subjects.

3. Encourage absolute freedom of speech in economic discussions.

The AEA says that the spirit of these objectives “has been maintained throughout the history of the Association.”

The AEA claims it will take no partisan attitude. Furthermore, it will not commit its members to any position regarding practical economic questions.

The AEA’s current president is William D. Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University.

A broadening membership

The Association used to consist mainly of university and college economics teachers. Today, however, it also attracts many members from outside academia and professional groups. It even has members who work in the world of business.

Over half of its current membership of 20,000+ consists of academics, while 15% work in industry and business. There are also members who work in the federal and local governments. It even has people who work for not-for-profit organizations.

American Economic Association activities

For several years, the Association had been publishing just three journals:

1. The American Economic Review, 

2. The Journal of Economic Literature, and

3. The Journal of Economic Perspectives (available free online).

In 2009, the AEA started publishing four new area-specific journals. The Association collectively know the four journals as the American Economic Journal (AEJ). They cover macroeconomics, microeconomics, economic policy, and applied economics.

Out of each of the four areas, the Association recognizes a Best Paper Award each year for articles it published.

The AEA also publishes EconLit, an electronic bibliography. EconLit indexes more than 120 years of economics literature from all parts of the globe.

According to the Association:

“Compiled and abstracted in an easily searchable format, EconLit is a comprehensive index of journal articles, books, book reviews, collective volume articles, working papers, and dissertations.”

Janet Louise Yellen became a Distinguished Fellow of the AEA in 2012. Ms. Yellen is the current Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Video – American Economic Association Humor Session

Listen to the ‘world’s first and only stand-up economist’ tell jokes at the 2010 AEA humor session.