thinking from Dani Rodrik today. Econoblogs have been getting better and
more numerous over the past couple of years – Rodrik himself being a prime
example of an excellent newcomer to the sphere – but might this trend
reverse? What if the best economist-bloggers decided that it just wasn’t worth
their while to blog?
If economists with high opportunity costs of time start to get out, shall
we have a lemons problem on our hands? Will eventually the only prolific bloggers
remain the ones that are not worth reading?
Certainly the better the economist, the higher the opportunity cost of blogging.
But the fact is that the best economists do not make the best econobloggers:
the skill-set needed to be a good blogger is very different from the skill-set
needed to be a good economist. Now it turns out that some individuals, like
Rodrik himself, has both. But I can think of more than a few very good economists
who are, shall we say, not great at blogging.
One of the ingredients of a good blog is frequency of posts. There are two
big reasons that Greg Mankiw’s blog is so popular: he’s a famous economist,
and he posts very frequently. (There are lots of other reasons, too: he writes
very clearly, he’s provocative, he’s good at writing short.) If you look at
it’s clear that frequency of posting is just as important as quality of economics.
And while I’m sure that there are prolific econobloggers who are not
worth reading, I think they’re probably in the minority. In my experience, most
prolific econobloggers are worth reading. And while Greg Mankiw is
a more famous economist, and has more readers, than Mark Thoma, the fact is
that Thoma definitely has the better blog. If Thoma were to stop blogging tomorrow,
the loss to the econoblogosphere would be much greater than if Mankiw or Becker-Posner
or Freakonomics went dark.
I have no idea how the econoblogosphere is going to evolve, but if it moves
away from a star-based system to something a bit more meritocratic, that would
not necessarily be much of a loss. One exciting model is Seeking
Alpha, an aggregator along the lines of the Huffington Post which features
high-quality writing from a whole host of people you’ve never heard of. It’s
more finance than economics based, but the model clearly works: Doug McIntyre
says that Seeking Alpha is worth
$36 million, which admittedly is an insanely high valuation.
So although Mankiw is certainly a star of the blogosphere, I won’t start fearing
for the future of the medium if he starts spending less time on his blog and
more on his other
commitments. I do, however, think very little of his decision to unilaterally
erase all of the tends of thousands of comments that had accumulated on his
site up until the point at which he decided to turn comments off. If he wants
to close his blog to further comments, that’s fine. But a lot of people put
a lot of time and effort into those comment streams, which were very valuable
in their own right, and it seems downright vindictive for Mankiw to simply wipe
them all from his blog altogether. My hope is that Mankiw simply made a mistake,
and that in trying to turn off new comments he inadvertently took away the old
ones. Might there be a way of getting them back?