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Amazon Gets an Edge With Its Secret Squad of PhD Economists

An anonymous reader shares a report: With help from outside researchers, Amazon’s economists are working on a way to measure inflation using thousands of transactions across its own platform. Automatically analyzing product descriptions allows them to better assess the quality of a dress or a juicer or a bathmat, theoretically creating a more accurate, up-to-date index of how much things cost. That’s just one way Amazon is using the squad of economists it has recruited in recent years. The company has turned so many businesses, from retailing to cloud computing, inside out. Now Amazon is upending the traditional role of economists within companies, as well as the field of economics.

Amazon is now a large draw from the relatively small talent pool of PhD economists, which in the United States grows by about only 1,000 new graduates every year. Although the definition of “economist” is fuzzy, the discipline is generally understood as the study of how people use resources and respond to incentives. In the past few years, Amazon has hired more than 150 PhD economists, making it probably the largest employer in the field behind institutions like the Federal Reserve, which has hundreds of economists on staff. It was the only company with a recruiting booth at the American Economics Association’s annual conference in January, handing out free pens and logoed stress balls.

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