One of the hardest things to explain to non-academics (or non-economists) is the length of time it takes to publish a paper in economics. Quality control? There is a well-known paper by Glenn Ellison (2002) arguing that there is nothing in that. Economists, high-priests of efficiency, actually run a remarkably inefficient system overall (yes, I am waiting for a first-round decision on a submission I made in the summer of 2011). What is the aggregate effect? James Choi reports that economists today are markedly LESS productive than earlier generations:
Negative productivity consequences of long economics journal review times
Ellison (2002) documents that the time an economics paper spends at one journal between submission and publication has more than doubled over the last thirty or so years. ... Intuitively, one would expect that, ceteris paribus, increased publication lags would make it more difficult for members of recent cohorts to produce as long a curriculum vitae in six years as earlier cohorts. ...
[W]hen we look at the number of AER equivalent papers instead of pages published at the end of six years... we ﬁnd large and statistically signiﬁcant drop-offs in productivity over time for graduates of both the top and non-top thirty departments. By this measure for graduates of the top thirty programs, the oldest cohort [1986-88 Ph.D. graduates] is 51% more productive than the middle cohorts [1989-94 graduates] and 72% more productive than then youngest [1995-2000 graduates]. The middle cohorts in turn, are 14% more productive than youngest cohorts.
Thus, unless we believe that recent graduates are fundamentally of poorer quality, the same quality of tenure candidate is signiﬁcantly less productive today than 10 or 15 years ago.