Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:22 | SYDNEY

A partial defence of econoblogging


Mark Thirlwell

13 January 2012 13:56

I'm in complete agreement with Steve Grenville's overall point — there is precious little evidence to suggest that the US blog debate has done much to 'winnow out dodgy arguments or produce a policy consensus.' But while that's probably pretty depressing for those who would like to think of macro as a purely technocratic business, I also don't find it particularly surprising.

As I've noted before, I think that political beliefs (and other values) have a significant influence on where many economists stand on some of these issues. And given that there is often a hefty political element to at least some of the policy choices involved, this also should be no surprise. What's perhaps more depressing is that — so far, anyway — the gradual accumulation of empirical evidence on some of these debates (few signs of so-called expansionary austerity; the absence to date of an inflationary surge) seems to be doing little to change minds, either.

It follows, then, that I don't think this lack of consensus is a particular failure of economic blogging: I am quite confident that the same inability to reach consensus would have prevailed (and indeed does prevail) in debates fought out in newspaper op-ed columns or policy briefs or wherever.

Moreover, I also think there is still some value in the debate. So, I would guess that economics students must find it quite useful (not to mention highly entertaining) to see policy arguments among the profession's great and the good diced and dissected: for a recent example, here is Brad DeLong taking on John Cochrane's views on fiscal stimulus.

Back when I first studied macro, I was taught about fiscal stimulus, the debate over the Treasury View and so forth in some rather dusty lectures on the history of economic thought. Now these debates are being fought out in real time against the backdrop of contemporary policy decisions. Again, this is perhaps (rightly) depressing for those who would like to think of macro theory as involving the forward march of a pure science. But if nothing else, at least it offers a much more interesting and engaging pedagogical tool.

Finally, there is some evidence that economic blogs do have some measurable positive effects. This series of posts at the World Bank from last year discusses some researchers' attempts to measure the influence of econoblogging: their final paper is available here.

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