Blogonomics: The Econoblogosphere is Not in Danger

Alarmist

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

the top ten economics blogs,

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?

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