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.
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.