Tyler Cowen says smart things about the value of a diversified intellectual portfolio:
Marginal Revolution: The value of heterodox economics: Might I blog this topic all week?
The very existence of heterodox economics brings benefits. A personal anecdote will suffice. My first two publications were both in heterodox journals: the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics and the (institutionalist) Review of Social Economy. These articles lifted me into a top graduate school and financial aid (can you imagine how confused the admissions committees were to see a GMU undergrad with an apparently leftie publication record?). I would not have had comparable success at Econometrica.
This tale relates to the value of diversity more generally. We will miss much of the value of diversity by simply listing a bunch of diverse elements and evaluating them one-by-one. Diversity brings broader benefits by allowing people to use niches as ladders to further steps, frequently into the mainstream, or in my case into another niche. Diversity is also a form of insurance, and of course it doesn't always pay off. Finally many excellent mainstream or sometimes even right-wing economists started with an intense interest in social justice, often gleaned from heterodox writings. Vernon Smith was once a socialist, and George Stigler was early on a trust-basher.
Yes the profession is getting better but we also are losing too much diversity in terms of schools of thought. The diminution of the Austrian School, as an organized and intellectually alive phenomenon seems to me a shame, even though I don't believe in a unique Austrian method. Heterodoxies encourage the mainstream to be more philosophical and more self-reflective.
Sometimes intellectual inefficiency is efficient, and my remarks about heterodox economics should be taken in this light.