Arnold Kling  

AEA Panel on Economics Blogging

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A Chronicle of Higher Education article:


The role of economics blogs started changing noticeably around 2008, said Alex Tabarrok, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University. Before then, blogs were expected to be clever and entertaining, and little else.

But the financial crisis demanded a response from economists. It sparked debate among scholars about which principles should be applied and to what extent, and which should be re-examined or scuttled. Familiar intellectual forums, like disciplinary meetings and the back-and-forth of scholarly publications, proved too slow to keep up, the speakers said.

Pointer from Scott Sumner.

The relationship of economics blogs to conventional economics is an interesting one. I hope to discuss it with David Weinberger next month in one of the online chats that Nick Schulz and I are doing. Weinberger is no economist, but he has a point of view about the Internet. In his new book, Too Big to Know, he argues that the type of scientific discourse one can have on the Internet differs from what is found in books. Also, the Internet is suited to topics that are open-ended, whereas in the paper medium we tend to look for ways to settle issues once and for all.

Anyway, I think that the paper medium in economics came to be dominated by mathematical formalism. This had the effect of shutting down some important discussions, particularly in macroeconomics and political economy. Now, with blogs, it is as if the gag that had been covering our mouths for decades has been taken off. Now that we can talk again, it turns out we have a lot of thoughts to express.

Also, I think that there are important issues in macro and political economy that fall into the category of not resolvable. They perfectly illustrate Weinberger's discussion of that issue. That is not to say that every opinion is equally reasonable, but it does say that reasonable people can disagree.

People have a choice about how they disagree. You can call the other person an idiot or the stupidest person alive. You can twist the other person's words into the most uncharitable interpretation possible. Or you can try your best to avoid those tactics. In the short run, arrogance and bullying seem to be the dominant strategy. But it will be interesting to see what emerges in the long run.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Methods



COMMENTS (4 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

On both the contribution of blogging and blogging style, I quite agree with you.

But I think people get the wrong idea on blogging etiquette. You aren't too subtly referencing DeLong, for example, but how seriously should we really take "stupidest man alive". Every blog has its own schtick and the very fact that I think we can trust that DeLong understands how English superlatives work is enough evidence to file most of this under schtick.

Meanwhile some of the most toxic, nasty bloggers and commenters out there go completely unremarked upon.

The recent dust-up between Krugman/DeLong and Tabarrok/Cowen is a great example. Exactly who is the guilty party here?

So... yes... I have long been a fan of the decency of bloggers and charitable readings and all that kumbahyah stuff too. But I think it's easy to overreact and get accusatory about that sort of thing in a biased way, too.

PrometheeFeu writes:

I think the primary advantage of blogs is that it accelerates the debate and propagation cycle. Take for instance the recent debate on public debt started with Krugman's "we owe it to ourselves" post. It took a little over a week, but by then, positions had crystalized, several people had iterated on promising models and I as a person with a full time non-econ job understood the issue. In the traditional publishing world, this would have taken years of back-and-forth with months in between and maybe in 2016, somebody would have bothered to write a book for those of us like me who don't read academic publishing. Blogs are the superior way to go. And if De Long, Krugman and Boudreaux call everyone stupid, that's not exactly the end of the world.

Jim Dew writes:

You might not appreciate how many lurkers like me are getting a real education in economics by following the blog debates. I don't know how many there are, but some of us are getting a lot out of all this. Education can't be too bad, especially since you're educating older influential people and not a bunch of Econ 101 conscripts.

You don't feel as if the blogosphere debate is, at times, superficial? A great thing is that the debates moves along faster, but I don't think any blogger really takes the opportunity to understand each other's visions (which is the mechanism which leads one to certain conclusions). How can we expect real progress if the debate is this superficial?

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