This interview is part of the Voices of BPEA series, highlighting women’s leadership in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA), an academic journal published by the Brookings Press twice a year. Each edition of the journal includes five or six new papers on a range of macroeconomic topics currently impacting public policy debates. BPEA is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, and the Spring 2020 conference drafts were released earlier this month.
Louise Sheiner is the Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow in Economic Studies, policy director for the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and contributor to the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA). She has served as an economist with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System since 1993, most recently as the senior economist in the Fiscal Analysis Section for the Research and Statistics Division. Her research focuses on health spending and other fiscal issues.
What has been your experience with BPEA?
I have written two papers for BPEA. My first experience with BPEA was in 1990, as a coauthor on a paper with Larry Summers, Jim Poterba and David Cutler when I was still in graduate school. It was amazing for me to walk into that room and to be at the table among all these extremely well-known economists. It made me very excited about being in Washington and part of the policy world. The next time I gave a paper was in 2014, when I had just joined Brookings. Both of these papers were applied policy papers that came to controversial conclusions—and BPEA is the best kind of audience and journal for this type of work.
That’s why I always look forward to BPEA–it’s a really fun event that is rewarding both in terms of the papers that are discussed and in the types of people you get to chat with and come to know.
As part of the Hutchins Center, I’m also involved with the BPEA Advisory Lunch, where I help determine what questions BPEA should be addressing. There is a lot of effort put in to making sure that BPEA papers are important, policy-relevant, and high quality. I think BPEA is a great outlet and journal that plays an important role in the policy world.
It was amazing for me to walk into that room and to be at the table among all these extremely well-known economists.
What has participating in BPEA meant to your career?
The fact that BPEA is well read means that the papers I’ve contributed have had more impact than I think they otherwise would have.
In your opinion, what progress has BPEA already made in diversifying economics, and what else can and should it do going forward?
I think that what BPEA needs to do is thoughtfully look for voices that may not otherwise be heard. I think in the policy space those voices are out there and it’s important to look for them. It’s easy to go to the tried and true authors, especially because when you’re commissioning papers over a relatively short period of time, so you want to believe you’re going to get a decent paper in the end. It’s not like a journal where the papers are already written. But I think it’s important for BPEA and it should be important for all journals to go and look for those voices and take a risk. Getting lesser-known scholars to write papers also means that they’re in the room and their voices are added to the conversation. I think that is something BPEA has done some of and I think they should do more of that, because right now, the BPEA conferences are still predominantly male, and they shouldn’t be. I think that’s a problem.
Getting lesser-known scholars to write papers also means that they’re in the room and their voices are added to the conversation.
What would be your advice to women considering a career in economics?
Do it because you love it. Try to focus on the joy and the satisfaction that you get from your work. Engage more than you’re inclined to, get on Twitter and recognize we all make mistakes and don’t let the fear of making a mistake stop you from engaging. Have thick skin and try to recognize that there is a lot of sexism in the profession and you have to be aware of it so you don’t internalize it. Basically, if you love economics, it’s such a great occupation, because you get paid pretty well to think about things that are really fun to think about and answer big questions and try to solve social problems. There are a lot of respectful, nice and mentoring people in the profession, too. You hear the horror stories, but there are a lot of people who aren’t like that, and you know, we’re working on all this. You have to keep working on it and it takes a long time.
Special thanks to Maureen Heydt, who conducted and transcribed these interviews while interning at Brookings in spring of 2019.