Friday, October 19, 2007

The benefits of econoblogging 

There has been a good bit of chat around the economics blogosphere about whether the best economics blogs are in danger of dying off because the opportunity costs of blogging are too high. My short answer is: High relative to what?

Blogging is of course subject to the MB=MC rule, and undoubtedly the best economists are busy. But the benefits to them from blogging might be greater. Tyler Cowen pointed out earlier this year that blogging is a form of self-experimentation:
Blogging makes us more oriented toward an intellectual bottom line, more interested in the directly empirical, more tolerant of human differences, more analytical in the course of daily life, more interested in people who are interesting, and less patient with Continental philosophy.
I'm sure that last point was humor, but the rest is certainly true. A drawback for me in some ways is that in writing my book now, I'm more direct, shorter, and less willing to let a part of my writing wander on a tangent. It's true also in teaching -- I get more done.

Am I more tolerant? I don't really know about that, but I think I can express my differences with others better than I did when I started this five-plus years ago. I find I read more, have more interesting conversations with others, and have met some great economists and non-economists through this blog. As Dani Rodrik found out, you have no idea who's reading until they either leave you a comment or, more often, tell you in person later on. (We think of them as separate worlds; at least in the world of MOB blogging, it's not. I know now dozens of Minnesota bloggers I'd've never met before, and some of them are friends in the real rather than online world.)

Because I read more now, I think research is improved too.

Now without a doubt, the Mankiws and Rodriks and Cowens of the world do not need blogs to be known; they are not really adding to their audiences. I am, because I teach at Flyover State. (Note: I say 'teach at', not 'am a professor at'; therein lies a huge difference in how we see our jobs.) I get the high-opportunity-cost thing -- as you've probably noticed, my output here is down because the book is already past deadline and not ready to ship yet (so why are you writing this? --ed.). But you cannot evaluate the costs in isolation.

Blogging of course isn't for everyone, and perhaps because some of the now-big names weren't here three years ago there will be a shake-out; many startups die, in restaurants and blogs. But you learn the benefits, and your blog evolves. Take a look at my archives and you'll see this is a far different place than when it started. I've even thought of a name change to reflect that, though the brand capital in Scholars is high enough to make that a problem I have to think about. Whatever we call it, it's both more costly and more rewarding for me now than when I started.

UPDATE: See this also by Bill Polley. I worry about the lemons problem only insofar as one thinks econoblogging is about spreading the word of what's on the cutting edge of economics research or the policy debates. I have never concerned myself with the former, and as to the latter, I'm not terribly convinced that the best policy analysis comes from the economists with the longest c.v.'s. Again, that might be about where I'm from and what I do, a personal bias. Your call, not mine, whether I'm a lemon. Arnold Kling most certainly is not.

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