Fri Mar 25, 2011

The ASA Loophole and the unfairness of AEA dues

While looking again at the proposed changes to the ASA’s dues, I noticed that, under the new scheme, a few lucky duckies will pay nothing at all. How is this possible, you ask? Consider the table:

As you can see, for those sociologists lucky enough to earn between $125,000 and $125,998 per annum, the new system requires them to pay no dues at all. What a great deal!

Speaking of good deals, it’s worth comparing the generous terms of the new ASA dues structure to what’s currently on offer from the American Economic Association. As it happens, the AEA has also just announced what it describes as a “substantial change to 2012 Dues under the newly adopted by-law” and has rejigged its dues structure. At present, membership starts at $70 for those making less than $66,000 per year and tops out at $98 for those making above $88,000. Not terribly progressive, but then what would one expect from a bunch of economists? Under the new rules just adopted, however, things get much worse. Beginning in 2012, if you make under $70,000 the AEA will force you to pay the outrageous sum of twenty bucks for association membership. This includes full electronic access to the seven AEA journals. If you make between $70,000 and $105,000, membership dues are a shocking $30. And if you make more than $105,000 fees rise to a positively outrageous $40. That’s a whole five dollars less than the subscription cost of a single ASA journal!

To put this in terms of the principle of progressivity, if you make less than $30,000 a year, the ASA proposal makes it easy for you—indeed, you are required—to pay an $80 membership fee. If you’re unemployed, the cost is the socially inclusive sum of $50. In return you receive one journal of your choice. Exploited AEA members, meanwhile, have to make upwards of a six-figure income before they are allowed to pay even half as much as that, and there is no way for an AEA member of any salary level to be socially included at the $50 level, something which even unemployed ASA members are able—that is to say, required—to do. And in a striking display of illiberality from a discipline allegedly committed to the idea that people should be “Free To Choose”, the AEA allows its members no choice of journals at all. No matter how little money you make, all members are forced to receive all seven journals published by the AEA, which not only makes a mockery of the idea that economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means which have alternative uses, but surely also imposes an absurdly high reading burden on its most vulnerable members. I for one am relieved to be a member in good standing of an academic association that has more respect for its members than this.