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The Future Information Structure in Economics

was selected for inclusion in the Scout Report Selection May 31, 1996.

Date: Wed, 8 May 96 18:31:30 CDT
Date (revised): Mon, 2 Dec 96 11:49:54 CST

Computers have greatly improved the lives of economists. Computer networks may dramatically change the way we work. Already we have seen hints with electronic mail, mailing lists, on-line card catalogs, access to U.S. government data, and the start of an on-line working paper culture (nearly 2,000 on-line working papers at last count; see [WPA] and [WoPEc]). This summer, back issues of the AER will go on-line, and across academia, there are almost 200 peer-reviewed electronic journals [VLib] with hundreds of U.K. journals going on-line this year [Hitchcock]. This world exists only in embryonic form---we are now at a cusp point, and any number of outcomes are possible. One possible future continues current practices with little improvement in access to information, albeit with that information traveling over networks.However, we argue that a different future, with more easily accessed information, is more consistent with academic traditions and values, and is now possible. Thus, this paper is a normative, conceptual view of how computer networks should change the way we work. It is also a brief overview; more details can be found in [Okerson], [Scovill], [Peek], [Hitchcock], and many issues of the ``Journal of Electronic Publishing'' [JEP]. A very extensive bibliography is [Bailey]. In addition, rather than a formal model, this paper is intended to start a debate in our profession.

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EconWPA began as a conversation between Bob Parks and Larry Blume on January 28, 1993. I located Paul Ginsparg's archive (then and he graciously installed his software on a Sun Sparc system which was supporting the department of economics email and computation. EconWPA began accepting papers July 1, 1993 and had ftp, email, gopher and web interfaces. The web interface for submissions was engineered into existence in July 1995. A complete and catastrophic machine failure in 1999 caused the loss of EconWPA's email new paper announcment service at which time there were over 15,000 subscriptions with over 8,000 unique email addresses.

In 2005, Arts and Sciences commandeered the computing services that I had provided to the Department of Economics since 1987. Some might say that the department was sold out, others would (erroneously) claim that centralization is efficient, and still others would claim that I have few marketing skills.

I was told that I could keep operating EconWPA (as well as many other services including,, and three RePEc servers) but I would receive no support (hardware, software, or anthing else) and (as had been the case) no compensation. At that point, given the apparent low valuation of my activities by the department, and university, it made no sense for me to continue operating EconWPA or other services.

Thanks to all who have supported EconWPA in the past.

A Chinese curse states May you live in intersting times. I have. Bob Parks - Jan 2006