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October 17, 2007

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jerry

Well, why are econ professors blogging? Is it fame or notoriety? Selling ads? Chatting with others?

That is, what is the requirement for there to be frequent posts?

I read blogs not through blogrolls or bookmarks but through RSS readers. One of my favorite bloggers is Roger Ailes (the good one, not the FOX goon.) He used to blog all of the time, and now he blogs when he has something to say. I read his stuff whenever my RSS reader tells me there is something new, and all told, that actually benefits everyone.

jsalvati

Perhaps econ blogs will go the way of Balkinization and The Volokh Conspiracy, which are two law blogs, where a lot of contributors contribute infrequently so that there is consistent content.

paine

"So if economists with high opportunity costs of time start to get out, shall we have a lemons problem on our hands? Will eventually the only prolific bloggers remain the ones that are not worth reading? "

yes

JRip

Why do you feel you have to come up with content daily?

I track all blogs with Bloglines and their Summary feature. Thus I only visit when there are postings AND they look interesting.

Saves me a lot of time.

Mankiw could simply change his blog to require a login of a real person to be able to comment.

That plus selective blocking of offensive posters and perhaps some quality discussion might ensue.


Some of my favorite blogs barely average a posting a month.

JRip

BTW My favorite blog with daily postings is CalculatedRisk.

Two bloggers.

They both track a narrow subject field from similar but different perspectives.

Their writing is very good and they go to a depth in many areas that I find no place else.

They manage to stick to facts and you see very little of their politics.

There are a couple other blogs that lead me to wonder whether the information content is inversely proportional the the square of the number for postings.

Kimmitt

I'm not sure Dr. Mankiw's blog counts as an "econ" blog, precisely, so I don't think it's relevant to the overall discussion.

As for who will keep blogging, well, wouldn't David Ricardo pretty much solve that question for us?

Isocrates

I agree. There is a real danger that economists will retreat again into their cloistered departments and leave debates over public policy to what Paul Krugman contemptuously refered to as "policy entreprenuers." Such people will then have an easier time persuading the public that "tax cuts increase revenues" or that "free trade hurts the poor."

What a shame. My own belief is that, as important as his academic work was, the influence that Milton Friedman had on the public was even more important. More academic economists should follow his example and explain basic economics to the public.

heckler

i just don't get the "i'm too busy" explanation for retroactively deleting all comments on his blog.

what exactly was the "maintenance cost" of leaving the comments that he'd already filtered and approved?

Run that one by me again, would you Docta Mankiw?

KY Choong

I wonder in what sense this is a "lemons problem". Is there an information asymmetry here?

Seems to me that "to blog, or not to blog" is just a straight cost-benefit question. Perhaps I've missed the point Professor Rodrik is making.

Dear Professor Rodrik - let me take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy reading your blog and would be sorry if you decide to stop one day (hopefuly not too soon). I like the idea that you are an orthodox economist who is prepared to engage with "second best" solutions seriously.

Robert

I frequent and enjoy mankiw's blog. My problem is that if bloggers like Mankiw are going to post contentious blog posts like he did the other day regarding conservatives in academia then he is going to get contentious debate. In short, if he doesn't want casualties then he should stop dropping bombs. I reckon if he focused more on policy he wouldn't have so many crazing people making inappropriate comments. That said, I rather enjoy his blog exactly because it is somewhat contentious and I even enjoyed the spirited debates.

I also agree with the other poster above. He could disable anonymous comments. This would increase the barriers to entry and minimize the number of people who are writing thoughtless comments.

Bill C

Although we are generally stubborn and independent types, academic economists do (grudgingly) respond to incentives. Therefore, the future of the econo-blogosphere may partly be in the hands of our deans, provosts, department chairs and colleagues who make tenure, promotion, salary and hiring decisions (not to mention office and teaching assignments!). An academic career depends on convincing these folks that you're good at (i) research, (ii) teaching and (iii) 'service', usually in that order, though weights vary quite a bit across institutions and individuals. So, what is the case that an econ blog contributes in those categories?

Research - this is probably the hardest one, because any dean will think the time you spend blogging is time not spent writing publishable articles (even if you actually only blog during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show). I would think a well-read blog such as yours might influence people's research agendas and ultimately increase the influence (and citations) of your work, but this effect would be hard to measure and therefore tough to sell.

Teaching - the pretense for my own modest blogging efforts is that this might be a good way to help students connect ideas from class to events in the world. Whether my higher-ups will see this as "innovative pedagogy" or "waste of time" remains to be seen...

Service - a blog might be 'service to the university' if it generates some publicity, and it might be 'service to the profession' in helping facilitate communication and dissemination of ideas.

Of course deans and provosts also respond to incentives, so the key to promoting academic blogging may be to get blog hits added to the formula for the US News rankings.

Chandan

unlike other econ blogs, I would sincerely hope that this blog remains in operation in the coming days...

Barkley Rosser

Too many lemons? Well, heck, guess we'll just have to make lemonade, :-).

Of course one way to deal with it is to have a co-blogger or two or three, as one finds on some econoblogs. Then each individual does not have to post daily, while having a reasonably steady flow of postings.

BTW, please don't go away, Dani. I have personally never read Mankiw's blog. No big loss on that one, although just cutting off the commments section looks ridiculous.

Biomed Tim

Blogging is a positive externality. People like me (non-economists) benefit tremendously from reading econ blogs (and yes, I read Mankiw's too).

Like the previous commenters, I think having co-bloggers is a good idea.


pat toche

I have been amazed every day about the quality and frequency of econ bloggers, the Danis, the Gregs, the Brads, the Georges, the Pauls, the Nouriels, etc. and equally amazed with the amount of time I have spent reading the blogs, and occasionally posting, and everyday thinking: surely this is not sustainable, this will end, so I was not surprised that Greg stopped the comments, rather I am surprised that he's gone on for so long.

There's a simple feature that should not be too tricky to administer: to require that those who post comments use a registered username with a recognized email, I know this feature exists, not sure why Prof. Mankiw did not implement it... but here's a theory: just as there may be a lemons problem among bloggers, there may be a lemons problems among the commentators and true: discussions were becoming less and less civil over at Mankiw's...

alexandre delaigue

Same problem with economists in the public debate, writing op-eds, newspaper articles, seen on TV, etc. Economists who can do it are economists who can write clearly, and who want to spend time explaining economics to the broader public; it is fair to say that they are a small minority.

And because of this, there is a big difference between famous economists often seen in the public debate, and good economists. And there is a big amount of cranks in people talking about economics in the public debate, considered as "economists". But to be fair, there are also very good people. All you need is some kind of filter to know who's talking.

It is the same with the blogosphere (with different qualities required : clarity, smartness, but also ability to write fast), which prevents it to be victim of a lemons problem : it is quite easy to identify good economic blogs and bad ones. Even if some good ones disappear because the author has no more time or inspiration, there are others who appear, sometimes written by not-so-well known people, but very good writers and bloggers anyway. And writing a blog is not so time-consuming : if you have nothing to say, it is possible to write "hey, read this article by my colleague", and come back the day you have something specific to write.

Tim Worstall

"So if economists with high opportunity costs of time start to get out, shall we have a lemons problem on our hands? Will eventually the only prolific bloggers remain the ones that are not worth reading? "

Best logical argument for the existence of my own blog that I've seen.

Cho

Dani,

I think you are misleading people here. How is this a market for lemons problem?

I remember from my FIRST YEAR economics that market for lemorns emerge from incomplete information, not from lazy providers.

It unfortunate that economists try to use words just to confuse the unlearned.

Cho

Musgrave

Kimmitt is right.
When you talk about "high opportunity costs of time" I mean that those bloggers don't see benefits in competing with Krugman's "policy entreprenuers".
I think that is one of the most worth pay off of to be a blogger.

PrestoPundit

Doing a good job of teaching economics to students can perhaps also be added to the list of things that have too high of an opportunity cost for most economist -- so instead the hard work of getting students to understand the economic way of thinking -- or an how the order of an economy comes about -- they load their classes with easy-to-grade math exercises. This is a widely reported fact about economics education -- after 6 months students who took economics classes can think economically, and can explain economics, no better than students who never took an economics class. Russ Roberts recent "EconTalk" with Robert Frank of Cornell goes over some of this territory in a revealing fashion.

The opportunity costs of thinking through a valid account of how economics can explain things also seems to be too something that has an opportunity cost which is too high for most economists -- instead economists produce lots of formal and econometric "research", and they continue to fail in the central task of coming up with a sound explanatory strategy for explaining how the overall economic order of the market is generated -- believe it or not economists have never done this in any adequate fashion, as a look at the academic literature on the topic shows. You might look at some of the work in the philosophy of economics or in the history of economic thought on this topic -- see for example the work of Bruce Caldwell or Alex Rosenberg.

So blogging is just one of many things which have "too high of an opportunity cost" for academic economists -- who have values that diverge from an interest in the common sharing of economics knowledge and the development of economics as a scientifically sound explanatory endeavor, beyond deeply narrow technical developments and all sorts of econometrics data manipulations.

Lee A. Arnold

Prof, I think the answer to your question is yes and no.

First, readership to blogs is vanishingly small in terms of the total population. But this is going to change. As the web becomes more important as an information source, this field will be entered by the huge public-relations "thinktank" machines, seeking to advocate policy positions as if these were tried-and-true economics (whatever that may ultimately be!) -- and complete with their own readerships of paid hacks who comment in unison. So indeed we are going to see prolific volumes of stuff that is not worth reading.

However, something else appears to be on the way: more generalized ad-based revenue income for many people, from many types of web content, such as video and prose. And you may be able to collect that money, even if your content is excerpted on other websites.

Of course, this will require the presentation of advertising, so many writers and readers won't like it. But for one who can live with it, it presents the possibility of creating a high-quality website, and perhaps even bringing it toward the center of one's intellectual activity.

Indeed it presents the possibility of becoming a commanding reporter or journalist, without being allied to a news organization... If I were an up-and-coming young journalist considering a career, or a musician or an artist, I would avoid signing a long-term contract with any large organization. If you are good, you will soon be able to finance yourself, and call all the shots.

And if your stuff seeks the truth, then it will win over others, and it will eventually make a difference in the world.

There will be aggregating websites which link to the best stuff, perhaps also collecting part of the ad revenue. Of course, these will also be subject to capture by special interests. But the slanted ones will not survive as before.

People may scoff, but that is a near-sighted reaction, although it is understandable. Because many people, particularly it seems most U.S. citizens, are jaded with regard to the possibility of truthfulness in mass media culture.

It is important to understand that we have been living through an historical anomaly. This is the temporary result of radio and television being broadcast only one-way, with huge start-up and operating costs that make it subject to corporate and government capture. This is all starting to change. As Al Gore shows in his new book The Assault on Reason, the Founding Fathers had a very different view, and they have yet to be proven wrong.

P.S. I did a short video synopsis of Gore's book. See

http://youtube.com/watch?v=P6nTAR2MVYQ

Bruce Wilder

The evolutionary metaphor seems appropriate. Websites are the the Theropsids (Synapsids?) looking on as the Order of the Dead-Tree heads toward mass-extinction.

Internet-based communication is still radiating species, and I expect blogs will both survive in some form and, also, give rise to some other forms.

Aside from the kindness shown to arboreal entities, I can see many advantages of internet communication over their dead-tree ancestors. I would include the seemingly contradictory potential to revise and to preserve (and search) history, as well as the relational feedback of virtual communities via comments and links.

I can see speculation on this continuing evolution going in a couple of directions. One is speculation about how academic economics as a profession might be affected. Publication of peer-reviewed monographs in dead-tree form is as destined for extinction as switched POTS (plain old telephone service) and the fax. Others have speculated that policy entrepreneurs might take over, but is it not possible that institutions of authoritative discrimination might also emerge, with websites as their major output, and some kind of blog for the masses as a sidelight?

The manic energy of a Mark Thoma or a Brad DeLong is amazing to behold, but the individual personal-project blog is not likely to last very long. But, perhaps, they are just pioneering the niche for others?

randomobserver

Ostensibly Mankiw was blogging for the educational benefit of his students, but the political bias and content of his blog was obvious. The worst of the politically partisan nature of his blog is seen in his posting of a White House spin document (and subsequently being shamed into posting a counterpoint), and his frequent negative postings about Hillary while eschewing every opportunity to criticize a Republican. The comments always nailed him on his conflicts of interest. I'm guessing that is why Mankiw turned off comments.

Mankiw's rationalizations about not having enough time to police comments are quite lame. It is a blog. He has no requirement to police comments.

Blaming contentious anonymous posters is also lame. There's no need for censorship. The quality of a person's comments should be judged irrespective of their level of anonymity. Honest intellectual inquiry demands no less.

Joe

How can the econ blogospehere lose its vibrancy and class? My feeling is that new blogs (e.g. Krugman blog) will outmatch any exiting blogs (except of course Rodrik blog and a couple of others!)

mickey mouse

Mankiw is a hypocrite and his reasons for deleting comments section are sloppy. I have seen him delete very well written comments because they showed critical flaws in his thinking.

One easily change restrictions and make only people with valid emails to blog. This will make them somewhat more hesitant to be brash. So in short Mankiw is just whining for no good reason and nobody really cares.

Also I don't think there are going to be any more lemon blogs than there already are. Also blog market is quite competitive as bariers to entry are very low.

Also I find a lot of the bloggers from ivy leagues to be wusses, the squirm if anyone uses a little harsh language (i'm afraid Rodrik and Mankiw are both part of this group). Whats up with that?

gregfan

What you or Prof Mankiw have to say is more important to me...I don't care about the viewpoints of some anonymous readers....I think Mankiw made the right move.

dissent

I think Mankiw put conservative beliefs out into the world and felt the reaction of people who've been hurt by those policies. I think he may have lived in a bubble where the debates were merely academic. But when you are out there and dubious about the need for fixes to our health insurance system, the response can be nasty. People die, from lacking insurance. I've known several.

I think this is a general point, in that right wing blogs are less likely to have comments. They don't want their indifference to the health and welfare of their fellow citizens to get a real response. They like the bubble. Reality can be a downer!

dug

I'm sort of with randomobserver on this one, but I think the problem goes further.

Brad De Long is at least as partisan as Mankiw. After all, how many of his posts end with "Impeach George Bush"? But the comments on his blog haven't descended to the level seen on some of Mankiw's posts, despite a long history and (I'm guessing) high traffic. It can't just be that trolls get no airtime in the mountain of comments from anne. (She could rent herself out as "anne-oculation" against trolls. Sorry, couldn't help it.)

The difference is in choice of posting subjects. Professor De Long's posts don't give an "in" to the racist and sexist yahoos that thought they found succour or support in some of Professor Mankiw's posts.

Jack

Dani,
You seem top miss the most crucial aspect of this thing we call the blogosphere, and that is immediate interaction.
You post an idea, an opinion that may be professional or otherwise, and bingo, an immediate response from your readers. The result being that your ideas had best hold some water. A blog site without a comments section is little more than a personal soapbox. As randomO points out, if you're not careful your critics may take you to task, and how embarrassing might that be in a public forum? If you're dealing in factual matter other blogs will take you to task. If you're peddling opinions it's just safer to block out criticism.

Bill aka NO DooDahs!

"it is quite easy to identify good economic blogs and bad ones"

Really? How?

Do "good" ones get more traffic? Should there be no "bad" ones in, say, the top 16 as ranked by Technorati?

Brian

Tyler Cowen speaks on the economics of economists' blogging**.

**It's a long mp4 video, but worth listening to. Moreover, names are included for the most part.

Bucket Trucks USA

I could understand how one might get "burned out." Blogging consistently takes dedication. Kudos to those who stick with it.

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