Category Archive for: Weblogs [Return to Main]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Comment Amnesty

I've decided it's time to declare comment amnesty. All blocks, etc. are removed. Clean slate. I do this about once a year, though this is the first time I've noted it here.

I don't really have a formal comment policy. It's mostly discretionary. I read them as much as I can, and delete the ones I think should be deleted. But if I had to describe it, it's something like this:

I do all of the comment monitoring, and I sometimes I don't have time to do anything but scan through them fast and make quick, on the fly decisions (and there are times, like last week, when I don't get to them at all for several days -- still catching up on those). I'm sure I don't always get it right. I sometimes miss the context and misinterpret comments, and it's not always consistent. Things that get deleted one day might not on another. I try to guard against that, but I have my grouchy, intolerant days just like everyone else. There have been more than a few occasions when I've overreacted and regretted it later, and probably an equal number where I've underreacted. I do my best. It won't be perfect.

I dislike it when the very first comment on a post sets the wrong tone or sends the conversation in the wrong direction. So comments higher in the comment stream where they have a large impact on how the conversation proceeds, the first in particular, get more scrutiny. That's especially true if it's a post that took a lot of effort and is trying to explain something I think is important.

All comments about the comment policy are deleted. If you have something to say about that, send me an email.

There are some things that are simply out of bounds. The bounds are pretty loose, but they do exist.

I wish I could do more to manage comments, but I can barely keep up as it is.

I sometimes react negatively to pot shots at economics or economists. Not always -- context matters -- but sometimes I do.

Sometimes, and this happens on those grouchy, intolerant days in particular, I simply have a negative reaction to a comment, get mad, and delete it. Those are the ones I'm most likely to regret. I do try to catch myself, but don't always manage to do so. Some people rub me the wrong way too.

When guests post at my site, colleagues, etc., I am far less tolerant.

There are two reactions to getting a comment deleted. One is to try again after rewriting to tone things down, and I don't usually have any trouble after that. They get the message and that's that. The other is to protest loudly by various means, often email or another comment, and keep it up until I'm forced to block them altogether. It generally ends up that way. Having to deal with the few people who can't control themselves in commets is, to me, the very worst part of blogging. Some days, I can hardly read comments because I dread having to deal with the few that go to these extremes. And some days I don't read them for just that reason.

The best way to get a comment deleted is to misrepresent something I say in a post, and then attack me for it. In general, I don't see any reason why I should tolerate getting trashed on my own site. There are ways to disagree without doing that.

I sometimes delete comments that make false claims or link to sites I cannot, in good conscience, send people to. When you put links to those sites in your comments, they are likely to get deleted. False and misleading claims are sometimes deleted too, especially when they are used to try and counter a point I think is important (or when is the first comment on a post).

I do the best I can, but I can't check every word of every comment.

I used to send emails to people when I deleted comments, and I sometimes still do. But they mostly turn out to be fake emails, that appears to be highly correlated with getting a comment deleted, and it just brings a flaming email in return. So I mostly stopped bothering.

When fights break out in comments, and it seems to be interfering with the conversation, gets personal, etc., I am likely to delete the entire set of comments.

People who have been here a long time are given more leeway when they occasionally step over the line. There are a couple of people who have been here almost from day one, when they were, pretty much, the only ones on the site. They stuck around, kept the conversation going, and helped to build the site. They are more part of the site than visitors to it.

I don't delete as many comments as this post makes it seem, it's really not that many (excluding the never ending battle aganst spam which brings multiple deletions daily).

I'd hoped the comments under the daily links posts would be a way for people to pass on links I might have missed. People do add quite a few links (thanks), but mostly people treat these like open threads. Works for me. That's a good place to take off topic comments or conversations.

You are always welcome to get your own blog -- they're free at Google -- where you can say whatever you want without the worry that some unfair, grouchy, intolerant, ideological tyrant might not to allow your brilliant takedown comment to stay. That would be your blog, this is mine, and I will run it as I think is best. You can run yours as you think is best.

All of the rules I forgot to mention or haven't thought of yet are in force.

Most of you are great. Please keep commenting.

I expect it won't take long for some of you to get back on the banned list -- the same behavior will produce the same outcome -- but perhaps I misjudge. Hope so. I'll try to be tolerant, but there are limits.

I will probably regret this post.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Frustration with TypePad

I'm a little bit behind today. The reason is that I redid the "Tweet" link at the bottom of each post. I had been using the code that TypePad offers for advanced templates, but the code is faulty is two ways. First, it doesn't shorten URLs so most of the tweet is the address rather than the text. Because the URLs are generally relatively long, the tweets were essentially missing the post titles and were not very informative as to content. Second, if the address happened to be longer than 140-3=137 characters, as they can be easily under TypePad's address system, the code would truncate the URL making it dysfunctional. A tweet that has only part of the address isn't very useful.

I let TypePad know about this on several occasions, even tried to embarrass them by asking why they left faulty code up after being informed about it, but they basically said they didn't care. It's annoying. This isn't a problem with TypePad's standard templates, only advanced templates, and as I've explained to them,  the fix is relatively easy if you have access to the internal database that holds the shortened codes (which are generated automatically if you send posts to Twitter, as I do).

The bottom line is that I can no longer recommend TypePad for people who plan to use advanced templates. There are other bits of code they offer that don't work either (e.g. the pictures for the social media buttons). I've informed them, but nothing happens. It's pretty clear that they have no intention of giving advanced templates the same level of support that they give standard templates. It's also pretty clear that they don't much care about code that doesn't work. That wasn't always true, but it is now.

Anyway, having faulty code on my site has bugged me in a way that doesn't seem to bother the people at TypePad. It annoyed me every time I thought about it, and Twitter came out with a new button a day or two ago that allowed me to fix this, so I did. I still have to turn it into a JavaScript pop-up rather than a full page as it is now, but my tests failed with one older browser type so I am going to hold off on that until I get this resolved, especially since it works just fine as it is. Also, it's now possible to amend TypePad's code so that URLs are only shortened if the title plus URL crosses the 140 character limit, and I thought about doing it for them. But since they didn't do anything for me, I see no reason to do their job. I will, however, probably fix it on my own site once I get the chance. For now, however, it adopts the Twitter standard and shortens all URLs even if there's room for the full address and the full title.

TypePad used to be very good at their advanced template support. Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on their core business, blogging, they are trying to be Facebook and Twitter by adding things that are poor imitations of what Twitter and Facebook can do. So long as they try to be what they aren't, a social media provider rather than a blogging service, their core business will continue to suffer. Too bad, I used to recommend TypePad highly.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Can/Should the Blogosphere Replace the Journal-Sphere?"

Andrew Gelman responds to Rajiv Sethi:

You can't put Pandora back in the box, by Andrew Gelman: Rajiv Sethi writes:

I suspect that within a decade, blogs will be a cornerstone of research in economics. Many original and creative contributions to the discipline will first be communicated to the profession (and the world at large) in the form of blog posts, since the medium allows for material of arbitrary length, depth and complexity. Ideas first expressed in this form will make their way (with suitable attribution) into reading lists, doctoral dissertations and more conventionally refereed academic publications. And blogs will come to play a central role in the process of recruitment, promotion and reward at major research universities. This genie is not going back into its bottle.

And he thinks this is a good thing:

In fact, the refereeing process for blog posts is in some respects more rigorous than that for journal articles. Reports are numerous, non-anonymous, public, rapidly and efficiently produced, and collaboratively constructed. It is not obvious to me [Sethi] that this process of evaluation is any less legitimate than that for journal submissions, which rely on feedback from two or three anonymous referees who are themselves invested in the same techniques and research agenda as the author.

I don't disagree with these sentiments, although I do think that, if blogging every becomes important in statistics, it will come much slower than in economics, political science, computer science, or even mathematics. Blogging has been big since 2003... But in all these years, very few statistics blogs have achieved much attention.

Sethi points out that, compared to journal articles, blog entries can be subject to more effective criticism. Beyond his point (about a more diverse range of reviewers), blogging also has the benefit that the discussion can go back and forth. In contrast, the journal reviewing process is very slow, and once an article is published, it typically just sits there. I personally like to publish discussion papers (that is, articles where others discuss and then I write a rejoinder), but most published journal articles don't have that format. (In that way, statistics may be better than economics. The field of statistics appears to accept that articles are attempts rather than realizations of perfection, whereas my impression is the economists worship at the altar of the "home run," the article that is such a perfect jewel that it is beyond criticism.

Can/should the blogosphere replace the journal-sphere in statistics? I dunno. At times I've been able to publish effective statistical reactions in blog form (see, for example, my skepticism about reported statistical significance in a brain-scan study) or to use the blog as a sort of mini-journal to collect different viewpoints (for example, our discussion with Pearl, Dawid, and others on causal inference). And when it comes to pure ridicule (I think you know who I'm thinking of here), maybe blogging is actually more appropriate than formally writing a letter to the editor of a journal.

But I don't know if blogs are the best place for technical discussions. This is true in economics as much as in statistics, but the difference is that many people have argued (perhaps correctly) that econ is already too technical, hence the prominence of blog-based arguments is maybe a move in the right direction. Even technical types such as Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw have become much more talky and less algebraic as bloggers than as authors of journal articles.

Statistics, though, is different. Setting aside debates about whether Ph.D. students in statistics should learn the strong law of large numbers (I think you can guess my position on that one), even the applied stuff that I do is pretty technical--algebra, calculus, differential equations, infinite series, and the like.

Can this sort of highly-technical material be blogged? Maybe so. Igor Carron does it, and so does Cosma Shalizi--and both of them, in their technical discussions, clearly link the statistical material to larger conceptual questions in scientific inference and applied questions about the world. But this sort of blogging is really hard--much harder, I think, than whatever it takes for an economics professor with time on his or her hands to regularly churn out readable and informative blogs at varying lengths commenting on current events, economic policy, the theories of micro- and macro-economics, and all the rest.

I think few will disagree that the most effective statistics blogging, by a longshot, has been Nate Silver's polling and election analysis on Here, Nate and I have actually published a couple of journal articles based on material related to the blog, but (a) the journal articles are quite a bit more technical than the blog entries, and (b) as journal articles, they don't represent major research efforts--rather, they fall into the "fun applications" category. Ultimately, Nate's blogging succeeds because it is news, not because of its research content. From another direction, I think Scott Sumner's econ blogging succeeds because it is well-written and because it supports a fiscally-conservative position that many people want to hear. Krugman's blog works because it's linked to a popular New York Times column and he takes a strongly partisan political stance, and Levitt and Dubner's blog succeeds along the same lines as Cowen and Tabarrok's--readers are getting a mix of news, provocation, and bite-sized analyses. All of these play important roles, but not quite the roles of journal articles.

On the other hand, the current system of scientific journals is, in many ways, a complete joke. The demand for referee reports of submitted articles is out of control, and I don't see Arxiv as a solution, as it has its own cultural biases. I agree with Sethi that some sort of online system has to be better, but I'm guessing that blogs will play more of a facilitating informal discussions rather than replacing the repositories of formal research. I could well be wrong here, though: all I have are my own experiences, I don't have any good general way of thinking about this sort of sociology-of-science issue.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"On Blogs and Economic Discourse"

Going back to the subject of modern macro and who should talk about it, and more particularly, the nature of discourse, I've been surprised to hear some critics of New Keynesian models -- those who have been quite critical of the discourse of their intellectual opponents -- explain that it's OK for them to be shrill, call the other side names, and so on because, you know, they're right and the other side is wrong. But I am going to leave that alone and try to turn the conversation elsewhere.

Rajiv Sethi says economics blogs are here to stay, and that's a good thing:

On Blogs and Economic Discourse, by Rajiv Sethi: I was making my way back from a conference yesterday and completely missed the uproar over Kartik Athreya's provocative essay on economics blogs. Athreya argued, in effect, that most such blogging is done by ill-informed hacks who ought to be ignored while properly trained experts (such as himself) are left in peace to do the difficult work of making progress in the field. The original post has been taken down but (as a telling reminder that no public statement can subsequently be made private in this day and age) a copy may be viewed here.

The response from the accused was swift and brutal (see Thoma, DeLong, Sumner, Rowe, Cowen, Kling, Avent, Yglesias and Wilkinson for a sample). I don't want to pile on, and there's little I can add to what others have already said. But I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate and expand upon a couple of points that I have made in previous posts about the rapidly changing role of blogs in economic discourse.

My view of the matter is almost diametrically opposed to that of Athreya: I consider these changes to be both irreversible and potentially very healthy. In a post commemorating the birthdays of two excellent economics blogs, I made this point as follows (see also Andrew Gelman's follow-up):

The community of academic economists is increasingly coming to be judged not simply by peer reviewers at journals or by carefully screened and selected cohorts of students, but by a global audience of curious individuals spanning multiple disciplines and specializations. Voices that have long been silenced in mainstream journals now insist on being heard on an equal footing. Arguments on blogs seem to be judged largely on their merits, independently of the professional stature of those making them. This has allowed economists in far-flung places with heavy teaching loads, or those who pursued non-academic career paths, to join debates. Even anonymous writers and autodidacts can wield considerable influence in this environment, and a number of genuinely interdisciplinary blogs have emerged...
This has got to be a healthy development. One might persuade a referee or seminar audience that a particular assumption is justified simply because there is a large literature that builds on it, or that tractability concerns preclude reasonable alternatives. But this broader audience is not so easy to convince. Persuading a multitude of informed, thoughtful, intelligent readers of the relevance and validity of one's arguments using words rather than formal models is a far more challenging task than persuading one's own students or peers. If one can separate the wheat from the chaff, the reasoned argument from the noise, this process should result in a more dynamic and robust discipline in the long run.

In fact, the refereeing process for blog posts is in some respects more rigorous than that for journal articles. Reports are numerous, non-anonymous, public, rapidly and efficiently produced, and collaboratively constructed. It is not obvious to me that this process of evaluation is any less legitimate than that for journal submissions, which rely on feedback from two or three anonymous referees who are themselves invested in the same techniques and research agenda as the author. 

I suspect that within a decade, blogs will be a cornerstone of research in economics. Many original and creative contributions to the discipline will first be communicated to the profession (and the world at large) in the form of blog posts, since the medium allows for material of arbitrary length, depth and complexity. Ideas first expressed in this form will make their way (with suitable attribution) into reading lists, doctoral dissertations and more conventionally refereed academic publications. And blogs will come to play a central role in the process of recruitment, promotion and reward at major research universities. This genie is not going back into its bottle.

Conventional research is mostly backward looking. Academic economists look at an event like the 73-74 recession, ask what caused it, build models to try to understand it, and they try to find policies that would have worked better than the ones that were actually implemented at the time.

That's fine for many issues, but when big shocks hit the economy that do not fit into the standard models, there's no time to wait for academic economists to take their usual approach -- it can be several years or more before the research is complete.

This is one place blogs have an advantage. When the current crisis hit and economists looked into their tool boxes for models and policies that could effectively offset the problems we were seeing -- or at least explain what was happening -- we came up empty. The models weren't there and there was no time to wait before deciding what to do in terms of monetary and fiscal policy. Action was needed, that was clear, but without a model to rely upon, what type of action is best?

Suddenly, it was like being in an emergency room when a very sick patient shows up, and you are not quite sure what the cause is, or what to do about it. Blogs stepped in and began analyzing these issues in real time in a way conventional research never could have done. Online conversations among the best macroeconomists in the business, among others, were very helpful in understanding what was going on and in developing policy responses to it. Was it a solvency issue? A liquidity issue? Both? Should banks be nationalized, should we buy bad assets from them, should they be bailed out or allowed to fail, etc., etc., etc. There were so many answers that were needed and very little time to wait. The ability of blogs to step in and fill this void is a good and helpful development, one that the profession ought to embrace more than they have. It's not easy at all coming up with new theory and policy recommendations on the fly, especially when the answer is as important as it was -- the proper response could make a big difference in the outcome, and the wrong response could be devastating -- and blogs were very helpful in filling the void.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Economics Bloggers Forum

I am here today. The conference will be webcast, and you can submit questions here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Economics of Aggregation

This is for Felix. If you run a website that depends upon advertising, what is the optimal number of aggregator sites (sites that run part of your original posts plus a link back to the original)? What is the optimal length of an excerpt? This won't produce any results that can't be obtained with a few minutes of thought, it simply formalizes the exercise so that the assumptions and critical parameters are evident.

Let's start by supposing that the profit for the original content site depends upon the number of visitors, i.e. that:

π = R(sN) - W

where R is the ad revenue function, sN is the number of visitors to the site, and W is costs. It is assumed that RsN > 0, i.e. that ad revenue increases with the number of visitors. This function could be made more complicated, but so long as profit is increasing in the number of visitors, this will suffice since the profit function will reduce to something along these lines in any case.

The number of visitors has two parts, s and N, where N is the total available audience for the type of content you are offering, and s is your share of that audience. I will assume that aggregators, denoted by A, increase the total size of the audience. That is, they provide a service by grouping and filtering content, the grouping/filtering of content lowers transactions (search) costs for readers, and this increases their number. More formally:

N = N(A),  NA > 0

What determines the share of the audience, s, that comes to the site? The share is assumed to depend negatively upon the number of aggregators (since aggregators divert traffic), and positively upon he number of "clickthroughs" from the aggregators:

s = s(A,C),  sA < 0, and sC > 0.

What determines the number of clickthroughs, C? The value of C depends upon two things, the number of visitors to aggregators, rN, where r is the share of the total audience captured by the aggregators, and the average length of excerpts among the aggregators, L:

C = C(rN,L),  CrN > 0 and CL < 0.

Clickthroughs are assumed to go up when aggregators get more visitors, and to go down when aggregators run longer excerpts, so longer excerpts are bad for the originator. But there's also a benefit to longer excerpts, the share of visitors to aggregators goes up when the length of excerpts goes up, and this increases clickthroughs:

r = r(L,A),  rL > 0, rA >0.

It is also assumed that the share to aggregators is increasing in the number of aggregators, A.

Finally, I am holding costs, W, constant since they don't vary in any important way with the parameters of interest, the number of aggregators, A, and the average length of an excerpt, L.

There are two tradeoffs built into this setup. First, as the number of aggregators goes up, the size of the audience goes up (at a decreasing rate), and that increases the visitors to the original content site. However, the share of the audience goes down since more people will choose to do their reading at the aggregators rather than the original site. For the length of an excerpt, L, the tradeoff is that as L goes up, more people visit the aggregator sites since the quality of their posts is higher, and that increases the total size of the audience and the number of clickthroughs. But it also reduces the originator's share of the audience.

More formally, the profit function is:

π = R[s(A,c(r(L,A)N(A),L))N(A)] - W

Then the first order conditions for A and L are:

πA = RsN[[sA + sCCrN(rNA + rAN)]N + sNA] = 0
πL = RsN[sCCrNrLN+ sCCL]N = 0

These are both intuitive (and obvious - hope I got the derivatives right). Let's take the second equation first. This equation, which is the first order condition for L, reduces to:


The term on the left-hand side is the marginal benefit to the original content provider from an increase in L (with A constant). It says that when L goes up, aggregators get a higher share of traffic since the quality of their services goes up (some of the increase in traffic is brand new, i.e. it does not all come from the content provider). The right-hand side is the marginal cost. It says that when L, the average excerpt length goes up, the percentage of clickthroughs goes down. The optimal L balances these two effects on the margin. Importantly, for some parameter values the solution is interior, i.e. the optimal excerpt length is greater than zero, and it's possible that the optimum is for full, uncut excerpts. (For example, if CL is relatively small, i.e. if increasing the excerpt length has little detrimental effect on the number of clickthroughs, then the solution is likely to be interior and the excerpt length longer. If CrN or rL is large, i.e., if clickthroughs are quite responsive to increases in aggregator traffic, or if traffic to aggregators responds strongly to increases in excerpt length, then this also points toward an interior solution and longer excerpt lengths, perhaps even full excerpts.)

The first order condition for the number of aggregators, A, can be written as:

RsN[sC(CrN(rNA + rAN))N + sNA] = -RsNsAN

As before, this says that marginal cost equals marginal benefit. When the number of aggregators, A, goes up, the marginal cost is that the share of the total available visitors, sN, for the original content provider goes down (because s falls), and this in turn lowers ad revenue. This is the right-hand side of the equation, -RsNsAN. The marginal benefit of A going up is threefold. First, as A goes up, N goes up and this increases traffic to the originator for any given value of s. This is the last term, RsNsNA, on the left-hand side of the equation. Second, because the increase in A also increases N, and visitors to aggregator sites depend upon rN, visitors to aggregator sites also go up, clickthroughs then go up, and this increases the share and ad revenue for the original content provider. This is captured by the term RsNsCCrNrNAN. Third, as A goes up, the share, r, to aggregators goes up, and this also increases clickthroughs to the original site. This term is RsNsCCrNrAN2.

More succinctly, on the benefit side, when A goes up, both r and N go up. Two of the marginal benefit terms capture the increase in the aggregators share, rN that results, and how the increase in rN affects clickthroughs and ultimately ad revenue. The other term captures how the increase in N affects the originators traffic, sN.

Again, importantly, the optimal number of aggregators (from the original content providers point of view) is not necessarily zero. An optimum at zero requires a corner solution, so it depends upon the value of the parameters.

Finally, let me emphasize that this is a very quick effort -- I literally threw it together while watching my Ph.D. students take their final this afternoon -- and there are many ways in which it could be improved. It is intended to illustrate some of the effects that are at work in this decision, and to make the argument that the optimal values of L and A are not necessarily zero, nothing more.

Next up -- when there's time -- what's the optimal length of an rss feed? If there are only two choices, all or (essentially) none, what are the conditions under which the full rss solution prevails?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Blog: Maximum Utility

I have a new blog at CBS MoneyWatch. They named it named Maximum Utility. I will be posting there approximately ten times a month on, for the most part, issues making headlines in the news (nothing will change in terms of what I do on his site). The first post is on the recent release of data showing the unemployment rate exceeds 10%:

Why Employment Might Not Fully Recover Until 2013, by Mark Thoma

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Astro-Turf Trolls for the Blogosphere"

Great. Organized, paid blog trolls:

Make no mistake: GOP is paying trolls to "blog attack", by Politics and Technology: This is unbelievable. We always knew that there were right-wing political hacks trolling the blogosphere, but this is a new low.

There's a company called Advantage Consultants that's offering up "professional blog warriors" to "flood the zone" with comments. In short, astro-turf trolls for the blogosphere.

Click to zoom on their ad..., but here's the text:

Are you ready for a blog attack?

Get ahead of your opponent with Professional Blog Warriors.

Be prepared to "flood the zone" with comments from professionals who are ready to put your talking points on the blogosphere 24/7.

Whether it's defense or offense, Advantage Consultants has a dedicated team of experienced blog warriors ready to advance your candidate or campaign.

Why wait for the attack? Launch your attack with a battery of blog and forum comments aimed at all media and blog sites in your district.

Contact us today and let us show you the Advantage in professional blog warfare.

 ...Incidentally, who are these people? Who is Advantage Consultants? Their president is Doug Guetzloe, a right-wing radio host and anti-tax activist in Florida.

The marketplace of ideas is far from ideal. This goes on in a variety of different formats, people are paid to call into radio shows, to write letters to the editor at local papers, to attend public meetings, if there's a public forum on an important issue you can bet someone, somewhere is doing their best to figure out how to manipulate the discussion in their favor. This is just the extension of an old technique to a new format (e.g. here's the same consulting group explaining how to manipulate talk radio).

But the basic dishonesty of it all bugs me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"The Perpendicular"

I'm not sure how to introduce this, other than to say thank you to David Warsh of Economic Principals. This is the introduction to a much longer article on econoblogging:

The Perpendicular, by David Warsh: The morning that I visited him last week, Mark Thoma had fielded back-to-back calls first thing from Reuters and Bloomberg. The day before, The Wall Street Journal had sought to arrange for a photograph; the day after, N. Gregory Mankiw, of Harvard University, proudly pointed on his blog to a Thoma item about a speech that Mankiw had made some years before, as former adviser to George W. Bush. Paul Krugman, of The New York Times and Princeton University, had done as much the week before. No wonder, then, that during a recent meet-and-greet, the president of Thoma’s university, upon discovering himself to be shaking hands with the proprietor of Economist’s View, made a fuss and introduced the self-effacing professor to the assembled throng.

Not too shabby, considering that we were lunching in the leafy little city of Eugene, where the 52-year-old Thoma teaches at the University of Oregon. The WSJ last week was preparing to include Thoma in an article about the most popular economic bloggers. Earlier in the year he had been an invited guest at Kauffman Foundation and Milken Institute conferences. How did Thoma achieve a position of influence three times zones and a world away from the financial and political capitals back East?

The first part of the answer is, of course, the Internet. Thoma is an economic blogger of an unusual sort – a mostly disinterested editor and re-publisher of a selection of items from the daily torrent of informed opinion available on the Web.  There are many other highly-rated economic bloggers:  Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, of George Mason University, conduct a peripatetic patrol at Marginal Revolution; J. Bradford Delong, of the University of California at Berkeley, dispenses caustic wit and insight at Grasping Reality with Both Hands; Stephen Levitt, of the University of Chicago, and Steven Dubner and friends hold forth at  Freakonomics; Yves Smith (a clever nom de net for a former lady banker) writes on Naked Capitalism from Wall Street; Dani Rodrik’s Weblog dispenses common sense on development economics; Baseline Scenario badgers governments with an above-the-fray sensibility rather like that of the International Monetary Fund. Krugman and Mankiw on their blogs are talking heads much more timely and topical, and only a little more gray, than when they began taking turns with one another at two-week intervals at Fortune magazine fifteen years ago. The ranking of these and other bloggers is continually appraised by the powerful collaborative filtering mechanism that is the heart of the custom of exchanging links. ... [...continue reading...] ...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Promises, Promises ...

I am going to *try* to update my other blog more often.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sidebar Changes

Just a quick note to let you know about two changes to the sidebar:

First, I've added "Links to Links" which lists collections of links from other blogs. This is updated throughout the day as I discover new link collections.

Second, there is now a continuously updating feed called "New From Other Bogs." This combines the RSS feeds from 71 blogs (presently) into a single feed and lists the latest posts by author and title.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Comment Troubles?

A couple of people have reported that their comments are being rejected by the TypePad system. I have no idea why -- they are not being tagged as spam so I cannot restore them -- all I can recommend for now is to keep trying (some people send the rejected comments to me by email, and that will work if there aren't too many, but I won't always be able to post them right away).  I am looking into this. [I should probably add that not every missing comment is TypePad's doing...]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Adam Smith and Web 2.0"

Nicholas Gruen says that while the "collaborative web ... can’t be easily explained within economists’ standard framework," Adam Smith "would have understood":

Adam Smith and Web 2.0, by Nicholas Gruen: History plays tricks on us. The real internet revolution picked up after the internet bubble had burst. And the economist whose framework helps most in thinking about the internet revolution is none other than Adam Smith, who kicked off economics more than 200 years ago.

The internet boom involved companies using the net to broadcast to customers — like ads on TV — or to automate the sales process: for instance, with customers booking their own airline tickets or ordering books. Today Web 2.0, or collaborative web, is enabling armies of volunteers to build a better world. Some are building and giving away public goods such as open-source software (Linux and Firefox) and reference resources (Wikipedia). Others provide expert analysis and commentary on blogs, often surpassing professional journalists. Others, such as Facebook, connect people with something in common.

These phenomena can’t be easily explained within economists’ standard framework, in which economic decision-makers are reduced to the ideal type known in the trade as homo economicus. Homo economicus is a pure, calculating egoist optimising his profit or “utility” without regard for others’ views or conduct (except where they’re useful to his ends).

Homo economicus might not explain which films we see or with whom we socialise. But a theory’s job is to highlight some aspects of reality — by leaving out others. When you make investments or haggle for a car or house, you’re probably doing the best homo economicus impression you can.

Even here, however, something’s seriously wrong. We’re socially comparative beings. We care deeply about the conduct, opinions and values of our peers, using comparisons with them to orient our own ideas about what we need or value and how wealthy we want or need to be. As for the subtler aspects of our economy, from the motivation of employees to those amazing things Web 2.0 is bringing forth, well, homo economicus doesn’t seem to get close to what’s going on.

Enter Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, published 250 years ago last month, a book he intended partly as a theoretical foundation for his later economics. As Smith sees it, we begin our lives as blobs of infantile egoism — infans economicus, if you like. But from then on Smith sees the process that we now call socialisation deepening and transforming us.

We learn from our immediate family, on whom we are utterly dependent, that some things win their approval and admiration, others their disapproval and even disgust. Our craving of approval and dread of disapproval and our ability to understand others by imagining ourselves in their shoes draw us into a lifelong dialectical social drama.

In modern economics, the attraction of great power, fame or wealth is simple greed for more. Smith’s richer psychology offers a more plausible explanation. “(T)o what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world?” Smith asks. What human drive lies behind avarice and ambition?

Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them. To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive from it. It is the vanity, not the ease or the pleasure, which interests us.

Smith was an advocate of self-interest in human affairs, but in a much richer, more interesting way than is usually thought. In advocating a larger role for self-interest, Smith identified the public goods that are prerequisites for self-interest becoming socially constructive. Within economics the invisible hand only works in a peaceful, lawful society, and with strong, free competition.

Within society more generally, self-interest becomes a rich ethical meal, not the morally anorectic egoism of homo economicus. Our natural sociality enriches and educates our self-interest. Craving esteem and imagining ourselves as others see us, we gain some objective appreciation of our own moral worth. And this is ultimately a spur towards virtue as we strive to be worthy of the esteem we crave (although, of course, as we are mere mortals there is much stumbling on our journey).

Web 2.0 is scaling up the scope for human sociality and opening up new vistas for the expression of self-interest. And yet profit-seeking is only a small part of how that self-interest is manifesting itself.

The way we express our self-interest on Web 2.0 is something new, and also as old as humanity itself. Why do millions of us blog? For the same reason we talk and write emails, text messages, instant messages and letters (remember them?). We do it to communicate feelings, ideas, needs and experiences with others who might understand us. They might even write back! Whether it’s the evolution of language itself or the evolution of culture and social mores, people’s interaction like this builds communities of shared meaning and understanding.

Even Smith’s description of a market was inherently social — he toyed with the idea that the fundamental human drive behind bargaining was the desire we each have to persuade others to see it our way. Smith would have understood the foundational proposition of an early Web 2.0 credo, “the cluetrain manifesto” — “Markets are conversations”.

As Web 2.0 burgeons, its denizens pursue their interests like the merchants in Smith’s Wealth of Nations, posting and commenting on blogs, making and exchanging programming code and mash-ups of each other’s content, making connections based on social or practical needs. Some serve practical needs — perhaps they need some software bug fixed. Others are “know-alls” proving their superior knowledge. Some express their love of a subject.

And just as the miracle of a healthy market enables the merchant’s self-interest to serve the common good, so this new alchemy of the web aggregates individual efforts into freely available public goods. Likewise this unruly mix of motives gives us glimpses of our better selves. To use Smith’s description of the psychology of ambition, it lures us on our quest for an “easy empire over the affections of mankind”, which is a hint, a tease calling us on a quest for a more distant and difficult destination — virtue itself. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Econo/Financial/Business Blogosphere Rankings...

Econoblog rankings and an explanation of how they were calculated.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kansas City Blogging and Barbecue

Tyler Cowen:

Battle of the Barbecues, Kansas City: The Kaufmann Foundation brought together many bloggers and many servings of Kansas City barbecue.  (Isn't America a great country?  I met Mark Thoma for the first time and tomorrow we talk about blogging and the future of the world.)  Then we voted, using Borda Point Count.  Tim Kane tells me:

Oklahoma Joe's wins handily.  Arthur Bryant's loses handily.  Others are close.  (Hmmm ... looks like a normal).

It's been fun to meet the people behind the posts. [Update: more here.]

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sad News

Calculated Risk:

Tanta Passes Away: My dear friend and co-blogger Doris “Tanta” Dungey passed away early this morning. I would like to express my deepest condolences to her family and friends. ... David Streitfeld at the NY Times: Doris Dungey, Prescient Finance Blogger, Dies at 47 ... This is a very sad day...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Econ Bloggers

From Tyler Cowen:

Econ bloggers gain clout in financial crisis, Marginal Revolution: Here is the article, there is lots from me and from Mark Thoma, among others.

On a more casual note, I've enjoyed blogging the same topic week after week after week.  I wonder at what point I will feel like cracking?

I'm not sure the quote about doctors came out quite right:

Are the econ bloggers able to better explain and analyze the often-complex factors that have led to the current crisis?

"I'm in academics," he replied. "On the academics side, you don't ever diagnose the patient. It's all theoretical, and what I'm doing now, especially with the financial crisis, is like having a patient show up at the doctor's office and say, 'I've got these symptoms, what's wrong with me?' And the doctor sticks him. That's a completely different use of economics -- a real time analysis -- that I haven't seen before."

Instead of "and the doctor sticks him," I meant that the doctor is asked to diagnose what is wrong and recommend a prescription - a cure of some sort - that will fix the problem (or explain why no cure is available and the patient will have to suffer through the problem until it fixes itself). You don't have the luxury  you have as an academic of waiting until it's all over, looking at the data, and then figuring out how well the policy worked, what could have been done better, etc. Part of real-time policymaking is learning what to look at ("Get me a TED spread, stat!"), and then learning how to interpret the diagnostics that you get so that you can understand what is happening and recommend a course of action. Real-time policy making is not easy, and you find out very fast just how good your models really are, and I've gained a lot of respect for those who do it and do it well since I've started doing this.

As in the medical profession, we need an interface between theory and practice - in economics the gulf has been too wide for too long - and I think blogs are one way the profession has started to close the gap between the theoretical community and policymakers. Practitioners have a lot to learn from the theoretical research in medicine and in economics, but there also has to be a feedback in the other direction where the practitioners can say, "this treatement doesn't work, has the following flaws, etc., and it would work better if..." so that the theorists can provide better tools for polcymakers and other practitioners. The Fed and other policymaers have always had to do this - make policy decisions in real-time - but the process wasn't very visible. With blogs, it's starting to come out into the open, e.g. look what Krugman did on his as policies to abate the financial crisis were proposed, and I think that's a very healthy development.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wishful Thinking

Yesterday, after the latest data on housing prices were released, there were many analysts saying we might be nearing the bottom of the housing cycle. I have a guest post at The Big Picture on whether housing is anywhere near bottom.

The bottom line is:

Are we near the bottom? Is the end near? I wish I could answer yes, but I think we have a ways to go yet. Paul Krugman says:

When will it all end? The answer is, probably not until 2010 or later.

I'm hoping it won't be that long, but so far the crisis has unfolded in an almost eerily slow fashion - sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion and being unable to do anything about it - and there's no reason to think that will change.

Update: Here's more on yesterday's price data from Dean Baker:

Two Items Missing in Coverage of the June Case-Shiller Data, Beat the Press: The coverage of the release of the June Case-Shiller housing prices indices overlooked two important items in the data. First, an examination of the tiered indices (these show separately the movement of house prices in each city for cheapest third of houses, the middle third, and upper third) indicates a sharp divergence within many markets. In several of the former bubble markets higher end home prices appear to be stabilizing, while prices for homes in the bottom tier continue to fall rapidly. ...

Ultimately, there must be some spillover in the sense that if the cheapest homes fall far enough, people looking to buy more high-end homes might instead opt for a cheaper one and then invest in major renovations. But the divergence that is showing up in the data at present is striking.

The other important point to note in connection with house prices is that inflation has picked up so that house prices would be falling rapidly in real terms, even if nominal house prices were flat. ... The bubble can be deflated either by a fall in nominal house prices or through inflation. There are important distributional implications for which route the collapse follows (borrowers will be helped by inflation, while lenders will be hurt), but either route can restore house prices to their long-term trend level.

Update: On Dean Baker's point about segmentation in the market and stabilization at the high end, a different perspective from Calculated Risk:

[P]rices are now falling for luxury homes too:

[E]ven luxury homes are now showing weakness. ... That "prestige homes" index found that in the second quarter this year, values on many such houses in San Diego dropped 2 percent from the first quarter and 7.8 percent from second quarter 2007. The average price among those homes has fallen to $2.02 million, from a peak of $2.19 million in the second quarter 2007.

No area is immune. The housing bust is now moving up the price chain.

Update: Free Exchange adds:

Bottom feeders, Free Exchange: In A guest post at Barry Ritholtz' Big Picture site, Mark Thoma gives it to us straight on the latest housing news. First, he says, lots of people have been calling a bottom since, well, since the top. Second, that wrongness doesn't obviate the fact that prices will cease falling eventually, at which point bottom callers will become correct and doubters incorrect. Third, based on prices and inventories, we don't have the support we need to call a bottom, yet.

Hard to argue with any of that. ... I would not counsel optimism at the moment.

But I will argue that optimism isn't an absurd state of mind. Looking at Case-Shiller home price data for the past year, and for 2008 in particular, we unquestionably see prices leveling off in recent months. For almost half of the markets involved, prices in 2008 have essentially been flat. ...

These moves may not portend an imminent recovery, but there are reasons to suspect that a recovery, once underway, will have a firm foundation. Potential homebuyers..., at present, ... generally see no reason to buy because the expectation is that prices will continue to fall. Why purchase now at $200,000 what you can get in two months at $190,000?

If it begins to seem that further declines are not a sure thing, however, those buyers will rush in..., the rush at the bargains will solidify the bottom, and potentially lead to a substantial upward revision in some markets.

The other critical point is in credit markets. As long as prices continue to fall, the full extent of the losses banks can expect is unclear. As such, banks will jealously guard their assets so as not to be caught undercapitalised by markets looking for blood. An apprent price bottom should begin to fix this problem. ... The combination of new credit with buyer interest should lay the groundwork for stabilisation. ...

And the other issue is this: once the credit crisis is resolved, housing needn't be a national issue anymore. Supply did not overshoot equally in all markets. When better borrowing conditions return, tight markets should quickly decouple from loose ones. That won't mean an end to pain for many, but it will mean an end to the national housing depression.

The question, of course, is when. I'm not foolish enough to guess. But there are reasons to find encouragement in the latest price data.

Update: From Richard Serlin:

Housing prices can't Drop too much. The Good far outweighs the bad.: In response to Mark Thoma's post today...:

"Are we near the bottom? Is the end near? I wish I could answer yes"

Mark, please think very carefully about this. Do you really wish housing prices would stop falling? Do you really think it would be better to have housing be more expensive? Do you really think the costs of lower housing prices outweigh the benefits? Do you really think it's better to preserve the wealth of a minority of wealthier homeowners and investors, at the expense of the middle class and poor, who are really hurt by high home prices? I know most of the middle class own homes, but they can't benefit from higher home prices unless they move to a smaller or otherwise less desirable home. Their children, on the other hand, can be devastated by high home prices. ...

Lowering of housing prices, over the long run, does immensely more good than bad. It's a great thing. They can't go too low. What if they went to 1 cent for the average home? That would be bad? Over the long run that would make almost all families and individuals immensely more financially secure, to have just a trivial mortgage or rent payment. The lower the better for housing prices. The good this does far far outweighs the bad. For more details, I have a brief paper regarding this.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Experiment: A Second Comment Thread

I am trying something new which may not work, but it's worth a try. I have added a second comment link with the title "Technical Comments" to each post. I'm hoping to encourage a wider range of participation, particularly from people interested in the core economic issues surrounding a particular post (both theoretical and empirical).

I am going to moderate the comments in the new thread with a heavy hand and keep the discussion at the level you would find in the classroom or in a seminar. The idea is to promote a respectful interchange among people with some formal training in the area and in doing so, get participation from people who might not otherwise leave a comment. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is too technical. Clarifications, qualifications, extensions, links to related academic work (your own work included), debates about the technical merits of claims in a post, anything along those lines is welcome. [I have asked that people leave their names, and that is preferred, but pseudonyms are allowable if you identify yourself in an email.]

This is not intended to substitute for the regular comments which are unmoderated for the most part (though there are limits), and nothing will change there. It's intended to serve as a complement that (hopefully) brings about a wider range of participation and more discussion on substantive economic issues. I don't expect that there will be such a discussion with every post, or even that the discussions will be all that common, but hopefully there will be times when a debate on the more technical issues will take place. That would be nice, and I encourage those of you who have studied the economic issues related to things posted here to share what you know with the rest of us.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Econoblogger Panel

I am at the Milken Global Conference where I participated in a panel on "econoblogging" (though most of the people on the panel were more orientated toward finance issues than economics).

Calculated Risk attended the session:

Conference Comment, by Calculated Risk: I enjoyed attending the Milken conference yesterday. Thanks to Jennifer Manfre’ of the Milken Institute for arranging a press pass.

I attended a couple of sessions on topics that I know little about (like Urbanization in India and China), and they were awesome. IMO this type of conference has two strengths: 1) you meet a number of interesting people, and 2) the sessions provide a great introduction to a variety of topics.

However when I was familiar with the topic (like "Real Estate: Where is the Bottom?"), I was disappointed with the depth of the analysis. Hopefully Tanta will have a chance to listen to the audio of "The Future of the Mortgage Market: Where Do We Go From Here?" - but I suspect she will be disappointed too.

On a personal note, it was great to finally meet several bloggers: Professor Mark Thoma of Economist's View, Felix Salmon of Market Movers, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, and Paul Kedrosky of Infectious Greed.

Mark and I are "internet friends" - we've corresponded for over 3 years - and it was fun to finally meet face to face. We seemed like old friends ... the internet is awesome!

The econblogger session was well attended. Personally I thought the moderator asked several wrong questions - and he kept focusing on the credibility of the bloggers and rumors being spread on the internet, as opposed to focusing on experts in specific fields bringing more in-depth analysis to a subject than a newspaper. The moderator worked previously at the WSJ, and he seemed to think blogs were a competing product to newspapers. Professor Thoma argued persuasively that blogs are complementary to newspapers and when written well (think Tanta!), provide more in-depth analysis on specific subjects.

I can't watch it, partly because I don't think I expressed myself very well (I never think I do...), but there is a video of the session here (Also, Felix says "If you're having trouble with the sound, it kicks in properly around the 8 minute mark").

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Comment Policy

Everyone seems to be posting their comment policies lately. Here's mine:

Continue reading "Comment Policy" »

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Trouble Right Here in River City

One of you got me in trouble. I received a big packet in campus mail from a law firm a few days ago demanding that I remove a defamatory, libelous comment from a post or face a lawsuit.

Someone had copied an article and posted it in comments (this was fairly recent). Subsequently, the author retracted the original article, admitted statements in the article were false, apologized, and it was removed from their website. Given that, I didn't see that I had much room to protest, and the lawyers at TypePad told me I was responsible for everything posted on my site, including all comments.

I had until the 23rd to remove it according to their demands, i.e. until midnight yesterday. I waited until 11:59 last night, then a half minute longer, then a few seconds more, then finally removed it just before the 23rd ended (a little voice keeps telling me to repost it every so often so that it stays in Google's cache, but I'm trying not to listen). I really wanted to fight it. But, given that the author had retracted the original, this didn't seem like the right place to take a stand.

No big deal I guess (or is it?), but I feel like I gave in too easily. I just didn't see how to resist in this case.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do Bloggers Threaten Democracy?

Cass Sunstein says the internet generally and those evil bloggers particularly - lefties are specifically identified - ruin the political discourse and threaten democracy:

The rise of the Daily Me threatens democracy, by Cass Sunstein, Commentary, Financial Times: More than a decade ago the technology specialist, Nicholas Negroponte, prophesied the emergence of the Daily Me – a fully personalised newspaper. It would allow you to include topics that interest you and screen out those that bore or annoy you. If you wanted to focus on Iraq and tennis, or exclude Iran and golf, you could do that.

Many people now use the internet to create something like a Daily Me. ... For politics, the phenomenon is especially important in campaigns. Candidates in the US presidential race can construct information cocoons in which readers are deluged with material that is, in their eyes, politically correct. Supporters of Hillary Clinton construct a Daily Me that includes her campaign’s perspective but offers nothing from Barack Obama, let alone Mitt Romney.

What is wrong with the emerging situation? We can find a clue in a small experiment in democracy conducted in Colorado in 2005. About 60 US citizens were put into 10 groups. They deliberated on controversial issues, such as whether the US should sign an inter­national treaty to combat global warming and whether states should allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The groups consisted of predominantly either leftwing or rightwing members, with the former drawn from left-of-centre Boulder and the latter from Colorado Springs, which tends to be right of centre. The groups, not mixed, were screened to ensure members conformed to stereotypes. ...

In almost every group, people ended up with more extreme positions. ... Aside from increasing extremism, discussion had another effect: it squelched diversity. Before members talked, many groups displayed internal disagreement. These were greatly reduced: discussion widened the rift between Boulder and Colorado Springs

Countless versions of this experiment are carried out online every day. The result is group polarisation, which occurs when like-minded people speak together and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations. ...

Group polarisation clearly occurs on the internet. For example, 80 per cent of readers of the leftwing blog Daily Kos are Democrats and fewer than 1 per cent are Republicans. Many popular bloggers link frequently to those who agree with them and to contrary views, if at all, only to ridicule them. To a significant extent, people are learning about supposed facts from narrow niches and like-minded others.

This matters for the electoral process. A high degree of self-sorting leads to more confidence, extremism and increased contempt for those with contrary views. We can already see this in the presidential campaign. It will only intensify when the two parties square off. ...

Polarisation, of course, long preceded the internet. Yet given people’s new power to create echo chambers, the result will be serious obstacles not merely to civility but also to mutual understanding and constructive problem solving. The Daily Me leads inexorably also to the Daily Them. That is a real problem for democracy

Would a world with absolutely no polarization be optimal, or is some degree of polarization - diversity of opinion and disagreement - better? If some polarization is healthy, and I don't think one identical mind in every body is optimal, than how much disagreement should there be and how do we know we are past the point of optimal disagreement and polarization? There seems to be this presumption that less polarization would be better, and maybe that's the case, but why is that necessarily true?

His argument, which is based on the Colorado study seems to be that a decline in within group polarization coupled with an increase in polarization between groups - as observed in the study - is bad. But again, why is it necessarily bad? It seems like you could argue the other way as well. Each group meets, brings a variety of ideas to the table, the group discusses the various ideas, some are discarded, and when they are done they have coordinated on a single idea rather than a muddled diversity that is more of a menu than a policy. That single, focused idea can then compete with an idea from the other side to see which idea proves to be the more popular, better idea in the end. It doesn't seem to me, for example, that the lock-step nature of Republicans in recent years has hurt their political cause, and it is the reemergence of diversity and in-fighting between groups within the party that has, to some degree undermined their effectiveness. I will acknowledge that the ideas the GOP brought forward were too much toward the polar extreme, but that may just because I don't agree with them and again, one has to explain why an idea closer to a pole is necessarily worse.

I'm not saying that more polarization is better, or worse, just that I don't see why either outcome is preordained and it seems like their ought to be more justification for a charge that the internet and bloggers are undermining Democracy by creating polarization than is given in the article. I also think we should ask if the internet has any advantages for democracy outside of the narrow frame examined here that might counterbalance any cost from polarization, but those potential benefits are ignored in the analysis.

One final note. It is assumed that blogs and the internet cause increased polarization. But I suppose one could also ask if blogs do, in fact, cause a significant increase in polarization over and above, say, Fox News and the Washington Times and ask for some justification for that assertion beyond a single study of ten groups of six people. But I don't have any additional evidence one way or the other, so I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Helpful Guide through the Econoblogosphere

If you are new to the economics section of the blogosphere and are wondering which blogs to frequent, particularly those in the financial or monetary policy section of the macroeconoblogosphere, this is a good place to start:

Link Lovin' fer the New Year, by Steve Waldman

The write-up that embeds the links to the sites is worth reading out even if you've been around awhile (and I should say thanks for the overly generous remarks about this site). Steve doesn't post as often as some of us, but when he does it's always worth reading. His rss feed is in the upper left hand corner of his site. [Update: Lawrance Lux comments on the list and a few other things.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Comment Problem

I just noticed the TypePad problem and will be approving comments caught in the spam filter, then deleting duplicates. There are currently about 80 comments in the filter, but a lot of these are multiple attempts (and none are actual spam). This is annoying - apologies.

[Please leave comments as always, and if it's caught in the filter (most aren't), I will approve it as soon as possible. Once I catch it - and I'll try to check often - it doesn't take long to move it out of the spam list.]

Update: See Moon of Alabama's "TypePad Sucks" for more on this. Update: Barry Ritholtz is also having problems. Update: TypePad tells me they've tweaked the filter and it ought to be better now.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Comment Problem

Update: Comments seems to be working normally again. For now.

Continue reading "Comment Problem" »

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Cyber Scholars"

PZ Meyers reports:

Cyber Scholars?, by PZ Meyers: Those sneaky alumni organizations — they've always got new angles on how to get to you. The alumni magazine for the University of Oregon has a writeup on me and a current member of the UO faculty, Mark Thoma. Apparently, we are Cyber Scholars, professors who use the blogosphere to teach the world. I think we need some new academic robes to go with that designation — preferably something in silver fabrics, and with a jetpack.

Here's the write-up. This kind of thing - the picture, the story, etc. - makes me self-conscious, so please feel free to scroll on by (I should note that one or two of the statistics are a bit off, but not by much, and that I wasn't going to post this until convinced to do so by others):

Cyber Scholars, by Katie Campbell, UO Quarterly: Mark Thoma compares the problem with the national deficit to dieting.

“People eat more in anticipation of a diet, which makes the diet that much harder once the time comes,” the UO associate professor of economics explains. It’s with that type of everyday language that Thoma reaches beyond the walls of academia to explain complex economic issues to average folks. That’s what he does everyday—on his blog (short for web log).

Many view the blogosphere less as a scholarly realm and more as a perilous information wasteland where the average blowhard can present himself as an expert. But a growing number of people with Ph.D.s, such as Thoma, are using blogs to connect with colleagues beyond their university departments and with the greater nonacademic community.

Continue reading ""Cyber Scholars"" »

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Free is More Complicated Than You'd Think"

Scott Adams seems puzzled that those who helped to make the bread might want a piece of it when it's done:

Giving Stuff Away on the Internet, by Scott Adams, Commentary, WSJ: I spend about a third of my workday blogging. Thanks to the miracle of online advertising, that increases my income by 1%. I balance that by hoping no one asks me why I do it. ... I figured I needed a rationalization... My rationalization for blogging was especially hard to concoct. I was giving away my product for free and hoping something good came of it. ...

Over time, I noticed something unexpected and wonderful was happening with the blog. I had an army of volunteer editors, and they never slept. The readers were changing the course of my writing in real time. I would post my thoughts on a topic, and the masses told me what they thought ... without holding anything back. Often they'd correct my grammar or facts and I'd fix it in minutes. They were in turns brutal and encouraging. They wanted more posts on some topics and less of others. It was like the old marketing saying, "Your customers tell you what business you're in."

At some point I realized we were collectively writing a book, or at least the guts of one. I compiled the most popular (mostly the funniest) posts and pitched it to a publisher. I got a six-figure advance, and picked a title indirectly suggested by my legion of accidental collaborators: "Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey-Brain!"

As part of the book deal, my publisher asked me to delete the parts of my blog archive that would be included in the book. The archives didn't get much traffic, so I didn't think much about deleting them. This turned out to be a major blunder in the "how people think" category.

A surprising number of my readers were personally offended that I would remove material from the Internet that had once been free, even after they read it. It was as if I had broken into their homes and ripped the books off their shelves. They felt violated. And boy, I heard about it. ... In the end, the bad feeling I caused by not giving away my material for free forever will have a negative impact on book sales.

I've had mixed results with giving away content on the Internet. I was the first syndicated cartoonist to offer a comic on the Internet without charge ( That gave a huge boost to the newspaper sales and licensing. The ad income was good too. Giving away the "Dilbert" comic for free continues to work well, although it cannibalizes my reprint book sales to some extent, and a fast-growing percentage of readers bypass the online ads with widgets, unauthorized RSS feeds and other workarounds.

A few years ago I tried an experiment where I put the entire text of my book, "God's Debris," on the Internet for free... My hope was that the people who liked the free e-book would buy the sequel. According to my fan mail, people loved the free book. I know they loved it because they emailed to ask when the sequel would also be available for free. For readers of my non-Dilbert books, I inadvertently set the market value for my work at zero. Oops. ... Free is more complicated than you'd think.

"I realized we were collectively writing a book." The word collectively might explain, in part, why some people objected to his removing the material from his site and taking all the (six-figure) gains for himself. Perhaps his "legion of accidental collaborators" feels a degree of ownership in the book - they participated in its creation - and they object to his taking their work for himself without having told them in advance that would happen. Leaving the material up on his site would have lowered the payment he received from the publisher, but perhaps that is the price of the collaboration.

Monday, October 15, 2007


A housekeeping note:

I went through the blogroll and removed inactive or dead blogs (i.e. no posts for several months). If I made a mistake and deleted yours, please let me know so I can restore it to the list (it wasn't a judgment about content). Also, if you have a blog that has an identifiable economics theme, I'd like to have you on the list so please send me an email and let me know.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Pro-Growth Liberal (PGL), in a post at EconoSpeak, says "Greg Mankiw Asks the Democrats a Good Question on Fiscal Policy." PGL has a few questions of his own.

EconoSpeak is a new blog featuring Kevin Quinn, PGL, Peter Dorman, Michael Perelman, Econoclast, B. Rosser, Sandwichman, and others to whom I apologize for leaving off the list.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

George Orwell Foresees "The Right Wing Blurghosphere"

Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution finds George Orwell peering into the future:

George Orwell Describes The Right Wing Blurghosphere, by Jonathan Schwarz, A Tiny Revolution: The Scott Beauchamp affair is reminding me of this, from 1984:

A Party supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party. The discontents produced by his bare, unsatisfying life are deliberately turned outwards and dissipated by such devices as the Two Minutes Hate, and the speculations which might possibly induce a sceptical or rebellious attitude are killed in advance by his early acquired inner discipline...called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

At first it seems amazing that Orwell could have precisely described today's right-wing blurgh world sixty years ago. But the right-wing blurghs are just an outgrowth of human nature, which never changes...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Economic Policy and the New Century Public Discourse"

Richard Baldwin discusses how blogs and sites like VoxEU and LaVoce are beginning to bridge the gap between research and real-world applications. Comments by Andrew Leonard at Salon follow the essay, and there are interesting related comments from Angus Deaton on hopeful changes he's observed in the profession in recent years:

Economic policy and the New Century public discourse, by Richard Baldwin, VoxEU: Economics is more relevant to policy-making than ever before, but you would never know it from the public discourse. The internet is helping bridge the gap, and has led the change. But how will the internet’s role in the public discourse on economics change in the future?

More realistic economics Major advances in theoretical and empirical economics now allow economists to address policy issues with much more realistic tools.

On the theory side, new areas such as economics and psychology, and behavioural economics, experimental economics and the new institutional economics have taken the profession light years beyond the simplistic view of human society that dominated thinking just 15 years ago. When it comes to firms, contract theory has allowed explicit modelling of the firm’s organisation choices and their reactions to changing economic environments. Mechanism design has allowed us to think more clearly about how government rules affect equilibrium outcomes in realistic settings.[1]

On the empirical side, the emergence of enormous new data sets and powerful statistical tools have greatly advanced our understanding of exactly how real-world markets work as well as how people, groups and firms react to incentives. In the 1980s, a ‘large sample’ was one with more than a hundred observations. Now researchers routinely work with tens or hundreds of thousands of observations; sample sizes in the millions are increasingly common. One key aspect of all this new information is that it involves ‘panel data,’ i.e. data that track, over time, workers, firms or whatever.[2] Data that vary both across individuals and over time allow us to filter out much of the heterogeneity that marks individuals and time periods. What emerges is a much clearer picture of how things like tax policy or education actually affect economic outcomes.

The new tools don’t mean that we now have all the answers. We don’t. We still don’t know, for example, how economic development really works, or what determines productivity growth. But the new tools mean that we no longer are forced to rely on theory with crude foundations, e.g. firms as profit functions, consumers as utility functions (although there are still many problems where such assumptions are useful abstractions that permit the research to focus on the key trade-offs).

With all these excellent tools at hand, one might have expected the newspapers and Parliamentary debates to be filled with new insights, new results and new approaches. Alas, with few exceptions, the public debate has not moved much beyond the simplistic pro- vs anti-market exchanges that have dominated Europe since the post-war rise of welfare states. Case in point? The 2007 French Presidential election debate.

In the 1980s, brilliant young economists like Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Jeff Sachs and Joe Stiglitz felt obliged to write Brookings or Economic Policy articles, to sit on government panels, to write policy reports, and to send Op-Ed pieces to the Financial Times. At the time, it was part of the definition of a being a leading scholar. It helped you get tenure at Harvard. It also bridged the gap between cutting-edge research and the public debate on trade policy, exchange rates, current account dynamics, etc.

Today’s brilliant young economists are much less interested in participating in the public debate in these ways. I have no empirical evidence to back up this opinion, but I think it is shared by many economists involved in economic policy issues and I had first-hand experience of it during my five years as a Managing Editor of Economic Policy. Young people need publications in good anonymously-reviewed journals; everything else is a luxury.

Hypotheses on why abound. My belief is that a major intensification of competition among the top US economic departments has occurred over the past two decades, and this led to an overwhelming emphasis on scholarly output that can be easily quantified – journal articles in particular. Things like sitting on Select Committees, testifying to Parliament, or writing policy-oriented books and reports have impacts that are too hard to measure, so they get excluded from the rankings. Oversimplifying to make the point, what does not matter for the rankings doesn’t matter for academic promotion, prestige or pay. While things have not yet gone this far in most of Europe, the trend is starting. Some European economics departments pay a bonus of thousands of euros to faculty whose work gets published in top journals. Writing an influential analysis of a legislative policy proposal gets a pat on the back.

Continue reading ""Economic Policy and the New Century Public Discourse"" »

Friday, June 15, 2007

Trade and Inequality

If you haven't heard about it, Vox EU is a new blog from the Centre for Economic Policy Research and it has an impressive list of contributors. In this entry, Paul Krugman adds to his discussion in "Divided Over Trade" and "Winners and Losers from Trade" on the increasing role of trade as a source of inequality:

Trade and inequality, revisited, by Paul Krugman, VoxEU: Trade and inequality, revisited Paul Krugman 15 June 2007 Print Email Comment Republish

It’s no longer safe to assert that trade’s impact on the income distribution in wealthy countries is fairly minor. There’s a good case that it is big, and getting bigger. I’m not endorsing protectionism, but free-traders need better answers to the anxieties of globalisation’s losers.

During the 1980s and 1990s, there was considerable concern about the possible role of globalisation in contributing to rising income inequality, especially in the United States. This concern was based on standard economic theory: since the 1941 Stolper-Samuelson paper, we’ve known that growing trade can have large effects on income distribution, and can easily leave broad groups, such as less-skilled workers, worse off.

After economists looked hard at the numbers, however, the consensus was that the effect of trade on inequality was probably modest. Recently, Ben Bernanke cited these results – but he recognised a problem: “Unfortunately, much of the available empirical research on the influence of trade on earnings inequality dates from the 1980s and 1990s and thus does not address later developments. Whether studies of the more recent period will reveal effects of trade on the distribution of earnings that differ from those observed earlier is to some degree an open question.”

But the question isn’t really that open. It’s clear that applying the same models to current data that, for example, led William Cline of the Peterson Institute to conclude in 1997 that trade was responsible for a 6% widening in the college-high school gap would lead to a much larger estimate today. Furthermore, some of the considerations that once seemed to set limits on the possible inequality-promoting effects of trade now seem much less constraining.

There are really two key points here: the rise of China, and the growing fragmentation of production.

Continue reading "Trade and Inequality" »

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Benefits from Blogs

This is about all of you:

Blog!, by Bruce Bartlett, NRO [also here]: On April 6, I had an article in The New York Times arguing the term "supply-side economics" (SSE) had outlived its usefulness. ...

What was really interesting about my article ... was the reaction to it. A University of Oregon economics professor named Mark Thoma posted a long commentary on it on his blog. I posted a response, which led to many other comments, including a couple from Paul Krugman, a Princeton economics professor and New York Times columnist.

Subsequently, University of California-Berkeley economist Brad DeLong posted much of the discussion from Thoma's Website on his and offered additional commentary, which led to further comments from me and some of those who had also posted comments on Thoma's Website. Since then, Thoma has kept the conversation going by soliciting a commentary by James Galbraith, an economics professor at the University of Texas.

The point I am getting at is that blogging is finally maturing into a useful way for people to interact with each other to sort out differences. It's like being in a seminar room with some of the smartest people on the planet, where we are all searching for answers to the same questions, but coming at them with very different experiences and philosophical perspectives.

But it is really better than that -- because in a seminar room only one person can speak at a time, some people speak too long, others go off on tangents, while others effectively sabotage any effort to narrow differences by focusing only on those areas where agreement is impossible. With a blog discussion, these problems go away. There are no time constraints, people must write their comments, those that are off-topic can be skipped over, and those who abuse the forum can have their comments deleted by the host.

Also, in a seminar room people can sometimes get away with making outrageous claims or factual errors that cannot be responded to in that forum. In a blog discussion, no one can get away with such things. Fact-checkers will immediately swoop down on mistakes and often provide hyperlinks to original sources that can be checked by anyone for verification. The result is an automatic self-correction mechanism that helps keep everyone honest.

This is not to say that there is no downside to a blog discussion. Too often, those posting comments start arguing with each other about matters that have no relevance to the original post. ... And, of course, people sometimes get abusive and substitute name-calling for rational argument.

But these problems are really rather minor and result mainly from the blog host lacking the time or the inclination to police the comments, disciple abusers and delete their comments, and bar serial abusers from being allowed to post. Perhaps in the near future, some programmer will invent an effective method of deleting irrelevant, off-topic, and abusive comments automatically...

Nevertheless, the sort of back-and-forth that my original article stimulated is extraordinarily useful. I learned a lot from those who commented on my article. In particular, I learned that many things I took for granted in terms of my knowledge of the economic experience of the 1970s are not widely shared. It has motivated me to write something more detailed that will explain the atmosphere and context in which SSE was developed. ...

As it is, both supporters and opponents of SSE implicitly view it in the context of today, thus leading to errors in thinking that what was true at one time is still true today -- or, conversely, thinking that something that is wrong today was also wrong in the past. In terms of SSE, what was right then may be wrong now.

In terms of what SSE accomplished, I still think it was the right cure for the economic problems we were facing in the late 1970s. I also think it embodies some fundamental truths that are applicable at all times. But these fundamental truths, such as the idea that high marginal tax rates are bad for the economy, are now almost universally accepted. So I say to my fellow supply-siders, let's just declare victory and move on. Insisting on a separate identity only makes enemies out of potential allies.

Update: Here are links to the posts in the series:

And, related:

Update: Ezra Klein has more in "Converted."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Experiment: An Open Blog

I am going to try something. It is based upon The Economist's decision to publish all of their letters to the editor in a blog.

I have created a blog called "Your Views." Anyone can post there.

To post at Your Views, just send an email with the title of the post as the subject to: That's all there is to it.

You can send HTML. For more details, see: How is HTML handled in Mail-to-Blogger? [I'll put something more permanent in the sidebar, instructions, links, etc. and perhaps do more with the site design if this catches on, if not...].

Don't forget to sign the email if you want people to know who you are. That's the only identifying information that appears - the emails post automatically - all I see is what you see.

It will be moderated, but only as absolutely necessary and only as I can - I don't have time to do it properly. I'd like to to evolve on its own as much as possible anyway, though keep in mind that economics is an overarching theme. But as I said, it's open. Comments are also open for all posts at the site.

We'll see how this goes.

[Update: There are two three four five entries so far from people willing to give this a try - they'd be pleased to hear your comments. Anyone else have something to say? Just send an email with your thoughts... One more note: If there are problems with the formatting after the post arrives, I'll try to fix it.]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's Not Addictive

I'm out of coffee this morning and very irritable because of it, so it's hard not to think of this study from AEI:

Is Caffeine Addictive? A Review of the Literature, by Sally Satel, M.D., AEI Economic Policy Studies: Abstract The common-sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption is irresistible and that it creates problems. Caffeine use does not fit this profile. Its intake does no harm to the individual or to society, and its users are not compelled to consume it. Though cessation of regular use may result in symptoms such as headache and lethargy, these are easily and reliably reversed by ingestion of caffeine. Some have argued that continued caffeine use is an attempt to suppress low grade withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness and lethargy. In some moderate users, this is possible; however, in experimental contexts, the phenomenon is too inconsistent to constitute a reliably valid syndrome.

I might not be compelled to consume it, but I'm throwing on some clothes, putting on a hat to hide bed hair, and heading to the nearest coffee dealer.

Uh-oh. I just realized blogging came before coffee. Good thing that's not addictive either.

Back soon.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Comment Rejected as Spam?

Is anyone having trouble posting comments? In at least one case, comments are being rejected as spam. If anyone else is having this trouble, please let me know:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hal Varian: Tom Cruise Should Worry

Hal Varian says technology reducing the cost of digital content will benefit consumers tremendously, but "old media" executives and the superstars they employ may not fare as well:

Why Old Media and Tom Cruise Should Worry About Cheaper Technology, by Hal R. Varian, Economic Scene, New York Times: I occasionally give talks to “old media” executives where I am expected to say something provocative about “new media.” Here is what I have been saying for the last few years: “You have spent a lot of time worrying about piracy, but the biggest threat you face is the falling cost of producing and distributing digital content.”

None of the executives took this claim seriously years ago, but since blogs and video posting sites have become popular, media executives are starting to look worried. A few months ago, one of them offered a rebuttal: “The cost of making movies isn’t going down; stars’ salaries are exploding.”

The next time I was being provocative, I was careful to add, “It’s true that Tom Cruise’s salary keeps going up, but that’s just an economic rent, not a real cost.” Boy, was that a bad idea. The conversation subsequently degenerated into a discussion of whether it was actually possible to rent Mr. Cruise’s services...

Continue reading "Hal Varian: Tom Cruise Should Worry" »

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New at New Economist

Posted at New Economist (I'm filling in while he's on vacation):

Island Economies and Ecocide: Was the collapse of Easter Island from ecocide as commonly claimed, from genocide, or from other factors?

Data Sources: As the title promises, data sources.

Political Tribalism: The state of political debate.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

TypePad Bug(s)

Comments are aggravatingly slow to post, but do work.   When leaving a comment, there is no need to wait for TypePad. After writing the comment, hit post, wait 10 seconds or so, then hit the back button, and the comment should already be there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Blogging and Academics

This is not the first time this question has been addressed in blog land, but there are some interesting views on the topic collected in one palce, so I thought it was worth bringing up again. It's about blogging and academic careers (via Daniel Drezner):

Can Blogging Derail Your Career?, 7 Bloggers Discuss the Case of Juan Cole, The Chronicle Review: With the debut of his Web log, Informed Comment, four years ago, Juan R.I. Cole became arguably the most visible commentator writing on the Middle East today. A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and president of the Middle East Studies Association, Cole has voiced strong opposition to the war in Iraq and to the treatment of the Palestinians, garnering him plaudits from the left and condemnation from supporters of Israel and President Bush's foreign policy. In the words of a colleague, Cole has done something no other scholar of the region has done since Bernard Lewis: "become a household word."

In the spring, Informed Comment took center stage in another arena — Cole's own career. After two departments recommended him for a tenured position at Yale University, a senior committee decided last month not to offer him the job after all. Although Yale has declined to explain its decision, numerous accounts in the news media have speculated that Cole's appointment was shot down because of views he expressed on his blog. We asked seven academic bloggers to weigh in on Cole's case and on the hazards of academic blogging.

Here's Brad's contribution followed by my comments. I may follow with some of the other contributions later [Update: Brad DeLong just posted summaries of a few other contributions as well as his own, which is repeated below]:

The Invisible College by J. Bradford DeLong, The Chronicle Review Volume 52, Issue 47, Page B8: Right now I'm looking out my office window, perched above the large, grassy, Frisbee-playing, picnicking, and sunbathing area that stretches through Berkeley's campus. I'm looking straight out at the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a view that I marvel at every dayI wonder why the chancellor hasn't confiscated such offices and rented them out to hedge funds to improve the university's finances.

I walk out my door and look around: at the offices of professors who know more about topics like the history of the international monetary system or the evolution of income distribution than any other human beings alive, and at graduate students hanging out in the lounge. It's a brilliant intellectual community, this little slice of the world that is our visible college. You run into people in the hall and the lounge, and you learn interesting things. Paradise. For an academic, at least.

But I am greedy. I want more. I would like a larger college, an invisible college, of more people to talk to, pointing me to more interesting things. People whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well. It would be really nice to have Paul Krugman three doors down, so I could bump into him occasionally and ask, "Hey, Paul, what do you think of .. ." Aggressive younger people interested in public policy and public finance would be excellent. Berkeley is deficient in not having enough right-wingers; a healthy college has a well-diversified intellectual portfolio. The political scientists are too far away to run into by accident — somebody like Dan Drezner would be nice to have around (even if he does get incidence wrong sometimes).

Continue reading "Blogging and Academics" »

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TypePad Problems

Due to TypePad's outage today, any comments left between 12:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. PST on Wednesday, July 12 have been lost. Any updates I made to posts have also been lost, and at least one trackback disappeared.


Update: Comments are reappearing:

We are in the process of restoring data. We have finished recovering posts, these were restored at draft status. Comments have also been recovered. Comments to new posts were recovered first, comments to older posts were recovered today.

We're working as quickly as possible to restore other date, we appreciate your patience while we resolve these issues.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mmmm, Spam!

Here's what's been on the blog menu this weekend:

Monty Python - Spam - Google Video

This article gets the ingredients of the latest spam wave about right. I am going to be stubborn and refuse to turn off trackbacks and let the spammers win, for as long as I can anyway, but I do hold them for approval. So, to answer an email, that's why there's a delay before a trackback shows up.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Comment on Weblog Policy

I'm pleased to say that so far, even though there are people from all parts of the political spectrum leaving comments, I have not yet had to worry about a comments policy.

Besides obvious spam, I have only deleted one comment since I started, though I have been strongly tempted on two other occasions. I would be very happy if I never had to delete another, though I will not hesitate to do so if necessary. But I'd rather not be in the uncomfortable position of deciding what does and does not cross some line.

All views are welcome here, those contrary to my own included, and I hope respectful, but hard fought and intelligent discussions over economic and political issues continues. Or, you can always say something nice. Leaving comments is scary for some people so that's appreciated too.

Just wanted to say thanks.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What Do Blogs Do?

I've been thinking about what blogs do, economics blogs in particular. Here are some preliminary thoughts - please add to the list if you have more ideas:

1. Blogs are often criticized for simply echoing information. But in doing so, they provide information to readers. Blogs act as filters on information. When you come to trust a blog, or know it well enough to judge its content, the fact that an article is posted there tells you that the person running the blog thought it was important enough to bring to your attention. Blogs can also help by pointing out information that is misleading, wrong, etc.

2. Even if you don't fully trust any one information source, there is value in repetition. As blogs echo information, it gives a sense of its importance and credibility. If a report is only discussed in one place it might be notable, but in general if an issue is being discussed most places you happen to visit, that indicates the information has some significance. So, beyond the filtering role that blogs play as they echo information from other sources, they also give it weight, e.g. if all blogs are worried about how to interpret labor force participation statistics, that is notable. And on those occasions when blogs on both sides of the political fence (or whatever fence divides the issue) are discussing an issue and coming up with similar answers, that is informative, as are the cases when heated debate erupts among reputable blogs on opposite sides on an issue.

3. Blogs add new information. On occasion, bloggers are inclined to seek out new information, for example to present economic information graphically, in tables, descriptively, and so on that helps to place economic statistics in perspective or to point in new directions. Thus, novel information provided on blogs can buttress or rebut the topic of the day, or it can point in new directions altogether. And the information does not have to be novel to enlighten and inform a discussion. There is also a role for pointing to, say, existing academic research on topics being discussed in the news and elsewhere.

4. This is something that I think is new, or at least a speeded up version of what we had in the past. In a sense, a traditional column in the newspaper is a blog as are editorials. A columnist posts articles say twice a week, then comments come back in the form of letters to the editor. There are also discussion at work, and so on. The modern blog speeds this process up considerably and allows broader participation in the dissemination of information and in feedback. When there is an important question, say a proposal for an energy tax as we saw recently, instead of the discussion being dominated by a few columnists, editorials, letters to the editor, discussion on talk shows, etc., we have almost instantaneous discussion of these topics on blogs, some from people with expert credentials, along with feedback in comments, email, etc., and many rounds of discussion happen quickly as ideas richochet back and forth.

I think this will become important when we have a crisis of some sort, say a currency crisis, and there are important policy questions that require immediate reaction. We saw something like this after Hurricane Katrina with questions about whether the Fed should lower rates, pause, or continue increasing them in light of all the uncertainty and destruction that existed. Blogs began debating this topic almost immediately and added important elements to the discussion.

When a crisis hits, we have a collective capability to respond that did not exist in the past and it will be interesting to see how well it works when it is needed.

5. In addition to their filtering role, blogs also motivate the media to take care in how they write about economics and other topics. Though anyone writing publicly develops a thicker skin, it can't be fun to be skewered for something you have written, and tools like Google and The WayBack Machine hold people accountable for things they have written in the past in ways they never were before. It's no longer possible to present misleading points of view without being immediately and thoroughly rebutted in public and if the issue is important enough, on fairly prominent platforms.

So, what have I missed or gotten wrong? I suppose there's a whole post to be written about the downside of blogs, e.g. bad information can get echoed and magnified as well as good, so on balance are blogs a positive or negative influence, questions like that. But that will have to wait for another day, or perhaps others can fill in the missing pieces.

Monday, March 06, 2006

You Say It's Your Blogday?

Today marks one full year of blogging, my first blogday. Happy blogday to me I guess.

I am horrible at this kind of thing, so I'll just say thank you to everyone and leave it at that, though that hardly says enough to many of you. With your help, this has exceeded even my most optimistic expectations - here's a picture (with the numbers removed) of traffic growth over the year. Thanks again.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

TypePad in China

TypePad is being blocked in China, but there are ways to get around the block:

11.01.2005 TypePad Performance Update - 7:00 pm: ...We've confirmed that TypePad blogs are currently being blocked in China, similar to the block put in earlier this year and last year. Until access is restored, the only recommendations we can make for workarounds is to use any web proxies which are available for routing requests to TypePad through another site. In addition, third-party services for processing syndication feeds aren't currently being blocked, so if you're using another service to enhance your TypePad-published XML feed, it's likely the feed will still be available to audiences in China. To be clear, the availability of TypePad-powered sites in China isn't something we have control over, but we do hope that full access is restored quickly, as it was last year.

[The link above is dynamic and TypePad has been issuing occasional updates on this issue.]

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Glittering Eye: Carnival of the Liberated

Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has his one year anniversary as editor of Carnival of the Liberated:

My anniversary with Carnival of the Liberated: a year in the Iraqi and Afghani blogosphere, Glittering Eye: It’s been a year since I took over editorship of the Carnival of the Liberated for Dean Esmay. ... I’ll keep on doing it as long as Dean lets me. ... The year has been enormously eventful for Iraq, the Iraqi bloggers, the Iraqi blogosphere, and the blogosphere as a whole. In this post I’m going to recap the year briefly. ... There are now two Afghan bloggers blogging from Afghanistan: Afghan Lord and Afghan Warrior. That’s two more than we had last year at this time. Thanks, guys. It takes enormous courage to do what you’re doing. Keep up the good work. I hope there are a lot more of you by this time next year.

It’s been a year of upheaval for Iraq and the Iraqi blogosphere. Many of the core Iraqi bloggers when I started editing the Carnival aren’t posting anymore; others have taken their places. Some have left the country: Ahmed of Life in Baghdad and Rose of Diary from Baghdad (husband and wife) have moved to Dubai where Ahmed has found work. Khalid Jarrar of Tell Me a Secret left the country after his ordeal. I believe he is in Jordan. This isn’t a good trend. If the best and the brightest leave Iraq it will be that much more difficult to rebuild the country. Some bloggers have returned to Iraq. Salam Pax, the original Iraqi blogger, has returned to Iraq and is posting again. His observations on the new constitution have been particularly good. neurotic iraqi wife has joined Hubby in the Green Zone and is working to build the new Iraq. But she’s discouraged and posts infrequently these days.

Continue reading "The Glittering Eye: Carnival of the Liberated" »

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Guest Post - Activist Monetary Policy in the Fed and the ECB

Today’s guest post at New Economist discusses differences in monetary policy activism between the Fed and the European Central Bank.  This is an important issue for monetary policy generally, and also for the choice of a next Fed chair as it provides a dimension along which candidates can be arrayed.  The choice of the next chair will help to determine the degree of activism the Fed pursues in the future.  The post also contains recent remarks from ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet on this topic.

[Link to guest post at New Economist]

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Relationship between Government Spending and Consumption

I am fortunate to be guest posting at New Economist this week and, as I note there, I hope I can live up to the blog’s excellent standards.  My first post involves how changes in government spending affect consumption, an issue beset with both theoretical and empirical uncertainties, but an important issue given recent changes in the deficit in the U.S.  The vehicle for the discussion is a recent NBER paper:

Understanding the Effects of Government Spending on Consumption, by Jordi Galí, J. David López-Salido, Javier Vallés, NBER Working Paper No. 11578, August 2005 (NBER, Free Apr. 04 version)

As explained, there is a difference in the predictions of RBC models relative to IS/LM and modified New Keynesian models.  The post at New Economist briefly reviews the theoretical models and their predictions, and then looks at the empirical evidence on government spending and consumption relationships.