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Friday, May 05, 2006

Why Don't Economists Write More for General Audiences?

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling explains why economists are not in high demand as authors for general audiences, a point made recently by both Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw:

No demand for economists, by Chris Dillow: Greg Mankiw asks: why don’t more economists write for wide audiences? He says it’s because they have little incentive. True. But there’s also little demand for economists in the dead tree industry, for several reasons.

  1. Economists deal in statistical inference. Editors don’t understand this. As one asked me recently: “what is an R-squared?” Which one of us was stupider – him or me?
  2. Editors like human interest stories. Economists know these can be deceptive. A good example was this thing in the New York Times (reg req). It interviewed low-wage workers who’d benefit from a higher minimum wage. The trouble is, the costs of minimum wages – those workers who’d never get hired – are hidden. Economists can point out this tendency. But editors prefer the visible human interest angle to talk of tendencies.
  3. Economists don’t pander to tribal prejudice. Editors do. Take Bryan Caplan. There’d be a big market among Republicans for his defence of inequality. But what if Bryan were to give the same readership his views on immigration? Best avoid this risk, and hire columnists who are just partisan hacks. You know where you stand with them.
  4. Economists don’t do simple answers. We know everything has a cost and that evidence is usually ambiguous or missing. No-one wants to read this.
  5. Economists don’t generate advertising. Take financial reporting. The fact is that markets are nearly efficient, and that tracker funds out-perform most actively managed funds. No-one will advertise if you only say this truth.
  6. Economists can’t write.

    Posted by on Friday, May 5, 2006 at 12:42 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (21)


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