Why do some economists blog? (Policy edition)

Several people have asked why economists blog. Here are a couple random thoughts centered on individual characteristics.

The Economist notes the synergies associated with blogging; authors can publicize their works quickly and relatively costlessly. Spurred by Dani Rodrik‘s musings, as well as those of Felix Salmon, Marginal Revolution‘s Tyler Cowan speculates on other motivations, and applies cost-benefit analysis to his own case.

I’m not going to have much to add in terms of analysis. I just noted one interesting aspect of a subset of bloggers: a good number of them are focused on policy issues. And within that group, there is a set of economists who have had a stint in government policy making (for now, I’ll restrict attention to U.S. Federal government cases; for a good start on the European analogues, see the contributors to CEPR’s Vox).

These include one of the top-ranked bloggers, Greg Mankiw, who was Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). (Gongol lists Mankiw at 4th, 26econ.com at 3rd).

Also associated with the Council at the staff level (Mankiw is the only policy-level CEA economist that I know of regularly blogging): Paul Krugman, whose blog was ranked 6th at 26econ.com, was senior international economist in the Reagan Council of Economic Advisers. Similarly, Nouriel Roubini of RGEMonitor was a senior economist for international finance on the Council from 1998-99, while Vox Baby‘s Andy Samwick was Chief Economist from 2003-2004.

On the non-macro side, Peter G. Klein, a senior economist in 2000-01 (and hence a colleague for the year), contributes on Organizations and Markets blog.

The U.S. Treasury also accounts for a few, very prominent, economics bloggers. First mention must go to Brad Delong, who was a deputy assistant secretary for Economic Policy, 1993-95; his blog is ranked 5th at 26econ.com. Another obvious example is Brad Setser, who ended his time as acting director of the Office for International Monetary and Financial Policy.

I’m certain I haven’t covered all the relevant bloggers; after all, some bloggers are anonymous. In addition, I haven’t surveyed economists who had been employed in the other agencies (Labor, HHS, EPA, DOE). But from this survey, I can make a few generalizations.

  • The motivation is spurred by a desire to remain engaged in policy debates. In other words, they’ve been smitten by the policy bug. (An observationally equivalent model would say that those attracted to policy would’ve naturally been attracted to blogging, but I’m unconvinced by this view.)
  • For the most part, these bloggers are in academia. This is because of the freedom afforded those in tenured positions. Those individuals who are currently in the government would (obviously) find it difficult to blog on policy issues that might even have even a tangential relationship to their current responsibilities. Similarly for those in the business sector — unless they are sufficiently high profile to be authorized to distribute their views (and for those, why publish the views for free?) What remains are those in academia, independent analysts, and those in think tanks…
  • But those in think tanks have other channels of engaging in policy debates (policy briefs, op-eds, etc.). This brings me to my other observation — that this set of bloggers is of a certain generational character: old enough to have spent time in government service (usually on a temporary basis), but young enough to not be focused on op-eds and columns as the only means of reaching a wider audience (or alternatively, not famous enough to be asked — although this hardly applies to Mankiw, for instance).
  • Academics also blog because for them, there are synergies between what they do, and blogging (I think micro folks call these “economies of scope”, but I’ll let real microeconomists weigh in). Mankiw started his blog, partly as an adjunct to teaching. But as others have noted that the blog also served to advertise his other works.

Hardly a formal analysis, but if people want to send me their additions to the list, and their views, please feel free.

[Additions: noon Pacific time 11/23, 7:20pm 11/24]

It occurs to me that I have omitted Federal Reserve system economists. Most former Fed system economists that I know of are not bloggers, but I now recall that Arnold Kling of EconLog was at the Board. And of course, there is Dave Altig, who (in his capacity as adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Business) wrote (and still might in the future again write) at Macroblog.

Mark Thoma reminds me that his co-blogger Tim Duy was a Treasury economist.

Technorati Tags: ,

5 thoughts on “Why do some economists blog? (Policy edition)

  1. Felix

    If US econobloggers are policy wonks who have been “smitten by the policy bug,” as you say, and who want to keep their oar in somehow, one might expect that in Canada — where academic economists are a much more central part of the government’s policy debate, and don’t need a blog to be heard — one would find many fewer econobloggers. And that’s exactly what we find. So I buy it.

  2. zinc

    Whatever the motivation, may it continue and prosper. All of the folks you mention add an incredible dimension to the free exchange of ideas that are necessary for our forms of government and economic system to continue.
    True patriots.

  3. Barkley Rosser

    I am aware of one fairly prominent former blogger, who will remain unnamed, who blogged while in a policy wonk think tank, but had to give it up when he took on a policy related position in a government agency. He was a loss to the econoblogosphere, but hopefully is “doing good” in the actual policy making arena.

Comments are closed.