Americans trying to understand the nail-biting financial trauma of the past several months are flocking by the millions to a surprisingly lively source of enlightenment: blogs written by economists.In the last several recruitment rounds at Canterbury, I've asked prospective hires which economics blogs they read. Some of my older colleagues think the question a bit from left-field, but I cannot imagine a better way for a young economist to stay on top of the current debates in the field as they're transpiring. If it's in print, it's already a couple of years out of date. And if you're just finishing up your PhD and you've never heard of the economics blogs, it's a pretty strong signal about the range of your interests.
Such blogs are thriving in this recession, driven by intense interest from policymakers, investors, academics and people like Zina Poletz, a Minneapolis public-relations executive who says she had little interest in economics before the financial crisis intensified last fall. “I never thought I’d be sitting up late at night reading what [Federal Reserve chairman] Ben Bernanke thinks, but now I do,” she says.
For many people, economics has never seemed so captivating, or so relevant. The enormous appetite for information and guidance right now is hardly a surprise: Even those with a basic knowledge of supply and demand have struggled to keep tabs on the global downturn.
“My [economics] professors were always saying, ‘This is the most relevant class you could ever be in,’” says Christa Avampato, a product developer in New York City with an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “But I think until the last 18 months I never really believed them.”
The result is a watershed moment for economics bloggers, ranging from academics to armchair economists, who are all too happy to help readers fill in the blanks—or find a place to vent their frustrations. Traffic to the top sites, such as Marginal Revolution, Freakonomics and the blogs from academics such as Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw and Brad DeLong, surged anywhere from 80% to 250% from July to September 2008 as the financial crisis intensified, according to Compete.com, a Web site that measures Internet traffic. The most popular blogs can attract as many as 50,000 to 100,000 page views a day.
The latest New Zealand top-20 blogs list includes three economics blogs: The Visible Hand at #18, your humble narrator at #19, and Peter Cresswell's Objectivist blog, NotPC, which sits at #3 and should also be counted as an economics blog. US readers: you got that right. A stridently Objectivist blog is the #3 ranked NZ blog. I don't think that Bernard Hickey's blog gets counted for some reason, but it's surely up there as well, and probably higher than either TVHE or me. Paul Walker's AntiDismal comes in at #25.
The economics blogs are relatively at least as popular in New Zealand as they are in the US. As yet, they've been far less influential in shaping the economic discourse, especially as it feeds into policy. Probably because the set of economists who blog in the US includes an awful lot of folks who get consulted about policy while the go-to folks for Treasury and RBNZ here, Arthur Grimes, Bob Buckle, Andrew Coleman and so on, don't blog and very likely don't read blogs. But the econ bloggers can occasionally make contributions at the margins of policy.
HT: Marginal Revolution