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Sometimes life does The Onion one better: It seems the very people who should have been best equipped to predict the economic downturn have found themselves reeling as jobs in their profession dry up.

Yep, as the Wall Street Journal reports, life is tough for academic economists these days, especially new PhD's in search of their first jobs, with leading schools like Columbia, Amherst and The University of Carolina at Chapel Hill announcing hiring freezes.

The reason? Simple economics. As the WSJ points out: “Top universities have seen their endowments shrink and government funding slashed, leaving less cash for jobs. Economics-department budgets are particularly vulnerable to cuts, especially since the professors are costly compared to their counterparts in other departments. Private-sector jobs -- at investment banks and hedge funds -- are drying up, too.”

But before you start shedding too many tears, consider just how un-dismal the job market for academic economists has been over the past few years. As economist Gregory Clark points out in an engagingly self-aware post over on The Atlantic:

“Most high ranked economics departments have professors earning in excess of $300,000. Not much by the pornographic standards of finance, but a fat paycheck compared to your average English or Physics professor. ...The high salaries have been accompanied by dramatic declines in the teaching burden. The research demands of our advanced science leave little time for the classroom. In good universities faculty typically teach only two courses a year - one of which has to be a graduate seminar. The masses in the Econ 1 classes are often abandoned to the tender mercies of graduate students.”

Or perhaps they should say: "...increasingly bitter grad students, who entered school expecting lucrative jobs when they graduated."

To get a feel for the current mood amongst Econ job seekers, take a quick tour of the website, where would-be Econ profs trade news of hiring freezes and engage in bitter recriminations:

“ Anonymous guy #1: If poeple [sic] post lies or other [expletive deleted] like that idiot - they get [expletive deleted] thrown in their face. Makes sense.
Anonymous guy #2: It seems somebody didn't get any offers this year. Makes sense.”


But surely the economics profession still rewards those with truly innovative ideas. In the unlikely event that any economics departments are still hiring, I'd like to point out that I am currently working on a highly original econometric model of real estate booms and busts. It's based on this guy's cat:

-- David Futrelle