Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In defence of (econ) blogging

This is an extension of comments I made here, here and here.

A Richmond Fed economist, Kartik Athreya, thinks bloggers in general should shut up about economics because economics is very hard, so very hard to do properly. The essay has provoked a lot of responses.

A thorough response here, an even more forensic response here, a brutal response here, a nuanced response here, a considered response here, a response on the virtue of extra information here, a re-awakening intellectual joy response here, a benefits-for-information (and limits to macroeconomics) response here, a pointed limits to macro-economics response here, a philosophical response here and a somewhat supportive response here.

That people responded, and often very thoughtfully, is hardly a sign that what they do as bloggers on matters economic has some insecure status, as suggested in the supportive response. Surely it simply shows they take credentialed offerings from the Fed system seriously?

Secondly, what is the significance of something being blogged? As I noted at Scott Sumner and Will Wilkinson's posts, a blog is just online self-published opinion pieces. Unless one has some great belief in the gate-keeping qualities of opinion page and magazine editors, it is no different than what economists have been doing in opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines and journals for lay audiences since, well, economics started. Should Malthus, Mill, Marshall, Keynes, Friedman, Hayek, Marx etc all have shut up and stayed in the professional journals? Athreya’s essay comes across as moral panic about a new technology mixed in with guild ("you have to be the right sort of person in the right sort of place") restrictionism.

For an example of the usefulness of econ blogging consider this short history lesson in macro-economics. Blogging makes this information available to far more people, far more easily.

I find online materials an enormously useful ocean of resources. Yes, you have to be discriminating, but that is true of any set of materials and information sources. That it so lacks gate-keeping restrictions can be a problem, but it is far more of an advantage. Blogging is only part of that ocean of resources, but to pick on blogging in general is a nonsense, an analytical failing of major proportions.

In the end, Athreya is complaining about an arena with low transactions costs and few limits to entry: a very odd thing for an economist to be complaining about. Usually, when people complain about low transaction costs and ease of entry, it is because they want to preserve some sort of privilege and/or sense of status. Which does seem to be what Athreya is actually about, at bottom.

(But I did enjoy the crack about Delong and Krugman's "we are obviously right" fiscal stimulus prescriptions:
... some who might know better. They are the patron saints of the “Macroeconomic Policy is Easy: Only Idiots Don’t Think So” movement: Paul Krugman and Brad Delong. Either of these men will assure their readers that it’s all really very simple (and may even be found in Keynes’ writings).
Perhaps Athreya could take up blogging ...)

UPDATE Scott Sumner makes one of those comments:
If you read Brad DeLong, you probably notice that he is a bit in awe of Krugman’s ability to be right about everything. Actually, Krugman isn’t right about everything, but he tends to be wrong about exactly the same things that DeLong is wrong about, and so DeLong wouldn’t notice those things.
Who said economics ain't fun?


  1. As a student of the media I think your Mr. Athreya is a bit like Steve Jobs who prefers a curated experience and made a disparaging comment about bloggers at WWDC when he was announcing the new iPhone. In my experience anyone wanting to provide me with a curated experience is not be trusted. They are probably leaving out the bits that would allow me to play with a full deck. For example, I have been trying to explain to myself my discomfort with Postmodernism for years and of course gotten no help from that Sargasso sea of leftist groupthink we call academia. It was not until I chanced on Lorenzo's blog posts about Stephen R.C Hicks Explaining Postmodernism that I got some outside help. Without the Net I would have died muttering to myself little wiser. The book arrived yesterday and I'm going back to reading it as soon as I finish this comment. ;-)