Two notable economics blogs - Cheap Talk and The Money Illusion - celebrated their first birthdays yesterday. Each marked the occasion with highly readable (but very different) posts that got me thinking about the origins and purpose of my own blog, and the extraordinary democratization of economic discourse that the technology of blogging has set in motion.
Jeff Ely's birthday post at Cheap Talk describes how his collaboration with Sandeep Baliga finally got off the ground after a sequence of mislaid and misinterpreted emails, and how they finally settled on a name:
And so we started thinking of a name. Sandeep had a lot of bad ideas for names
and he is too much of a philistine to appreciate my ideas for names:
- hodgepodge hedgehog
- bacon is a vegetable
- release the gecko
- coordination failure
- reaction function
- banana seeds
- vapor mill
- el emenopi’so we were at an impasse. Somehow we hit upon the name Cheap Talk. Sandeep ran it by some folks at a party and it seemed like a hit. (That name was taken by a then-defunct blog and wordpress does not recycle url’s so we had to morph it into cheeptalk.wordpress.com.)
I'm surprised they didn't consider babbling equilibrium. Here's the birthday message I left for them:
This entry (not surprisingly) attracted a number of supportive and encouraging comments, among which was my own:
This is a wonderful, heartfelt post. You’re a far better writer than you give yourself credit for. Congratulations on the first birthday of your blog; I hope that there will be many more to come.
I really meant that. There was much in Sumner's post that struck a chord with me. I also see my own blog as a sequence of short interlocking essays that present what I hope is a coherent vision. And I too have been fortunate enough to have been visited by a number of thoughtful readers with whom I have had long, wide-ranging, and generally civil exchanges.
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 (see, for instance, this fascinating post from one of my favorites.)
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.