Peter R. Hartley
Professor and Baker Institute Fellow
Rice University (Houston, Texas)
I draw to your attention two important items in this issue of Dialogue. The first discusses our 31st Annual North American Conference that is going to be held in Austin from November 4–7, 2012. The committee has been hard at work planning interesting plenary sessions, fun events and great opportunities to network. If you have not already made plans to attend, please do so now.
The second discusses our Salary Survey that will be ongoing as you read this issue of Dialogue. This is a new initiative for the USAEE, which we hope will provide a valuable service to many current and potential new members of the Association and become a biennial event. Extensive participation by our members is essential for its success, so I urge you all to take five minutes to complete the online, secure and confidential survey.
In the remainder of this letter I would like to share a few thoughts on the nature of our Association.
The USAEE/IAEE is unique among the professional groups that I belong to for its broad range of members. We aim to serve students and academics; professionals working in major energy, financial, and law firms operating in the energy sector; professionals working in government entities making policy affecting the industry; and consultants, journalists and other analysts advising all of the above industry players or explaining or representing the sector to people outside of it. Two things bind us together. One is our common interest in the energy industry. The other is a methodological conviction that economics provides useful tools for viewing issues affecting the industry. The shared methodological conviction also gives us a common language that allows us to communicate effectively despite our differing perspectives.
Most of us also belong to other professional associations that focus more narrowly on our particular niche within the energy industry. A more narrow focus facilitates a more efficient exchange of information, since the participants in the conversation share much more in-depth knowledge and experience about their particular niche. On the other hand, the discussions are also much more narrow in scope. Where the USAEE/IAEE conferences and chapter meetings excel is in fostering communication across the various niches. They also provide a venue where we can form personal relationships with professionals spanning the various niches. It is very hard to predict when such relationships may become valuable.
In my own case as an academic energy economist, there are a number of reasons why it is valuable to speak with, and listen to presentations by, professionals who are not academics. Most obviously, non-academics have a say in providing funds for research and the academic enterprise more generally, including through consulting arrangements. They are more likely to fund research that addresses their concerns. Professionals in industry, government and the analyst communities are also the main employers of our students. If we want our students to be competitive for the best jobs, we need to make sure they are receiving training that is relevant for their future roles.
However, there are also less obvious benefits from such interactions. Quite often, professionals are looking to academics for answers or insights on the more difficult or subtle issues. Where existing techniques or analytical tools, or less complicated data analyses, yield adequate answers the professionals can do the work themselves. Developing new methods or insights, however, has a high return within the academic community. In applied academic fields such as energy economics, there is also a return to research that addresses real problems. That ought to be the case, for otherwise economics would become an insular and irrelevant activity. As an economist once remarked to me, “if there were no real-world applications if economic or econometric theory no matter how elegant the mathematics or how clever the arguments it would be about as useful as if Mozart had only known how to whistle.”
It would be interesting to hear from other members of the Association about what they find of value in our meetings and other activities. Such conversations might help us to discern how we can better serve our existing members and attract new recruits.