The title I've chosen for this post could have been the title of a short recent piece by self-described "worker bee" economist Kartik Athreya. (The article, titled "Economics is Hard. Don't Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise" may be accessed by contacting Athreya at the Richmond Fed.) Economics is hard, says Athreya. Well, yes. So what follows from that? Only Athreya seems to know. He has directed his short article, not to bloggers or economists, but to consumers of economics blogs. I wonder if he understands that the main way consumers of blogs would find out about his article criticizing economics blogs is by reading . . . economics blogs. OK, so that's a paradox rather than a contradiction. If a guy's going to reach people, he needs to use existing media even if he disapproves of these media, right? I'll grant him that. After all, I'm not a big fan of the New York Times, but I had a piece published in it.
But there are some bigger problems. Scott Sumner, in the best comment I have read on Athreya, has mentioned a few of them. Here's my take that, in some ways, overlaps Sumner's.
Athreya's apparent message is that bloggers should leave the heavy lifting of economics to the people who have had at least a year in a Ph.D. program at a "decent" economics department such as the University of Iowa. What are the important things that bloggers are leaving out? Mathematics. Athreya, in this short video [click on his], tells us that mathematics is the language of economics. Not one of the languages, which I'll grant him. The language.
What are the important issues that bloggers are getting wrong and that they would be more likely to get right if they had had a year in a "decent" economics program? He doesn't say. Nowhere in the piece does Athreya say anything like, "Here's what the bloggers are getting wrong, and here's where some careful analytic thinking by economists can get it right." No. It makes sense that he wouldn't give an example. After having told us that mathematics is the language of economics, and after having stood, in a video apparently aimed at the public, in front of a blackboard of mathematical spaghetti, there appears to be nothing he can add that non-economist consumers of blogs would understand.
Athreya is saying, in effect, "Don't ask, don't tell."