Posts Tagged Blogosphere
So I’ve been thinking about finishing up with this blog for a while. I have completed my economics degree now and have a lot less to say than I did before, at least without turning it into the type of blog where I repeat myself, which was never its purpose (its purpose was to allow me to think critically through different topics and ideas). I’ve had about half a million views on this blog over the past 3 years, and over 5000 comments on about 170 posts, all of which I am grateful for (well, almost all of them), but I think the time has finally come to stop using this page. I can’t guarantee I won’t use it again, but I don’t plan to at this stage.
However, don’t think that this entails me disappearing entirely. Here’s what I will be doing:
- Starting my postgraduate studies in economics.
- Writing for Pieria as before, but I won’t cross post to my posts from here.
- Contributing to a new blog/newsletter at IDEAnomics, a new project focused on bringing dynamics to economics and on reforming economics education (I’ll be more involved with the latter). This project is headed by Steve Keen, and the blog/newsletter will (afaik) include contributions from Cameron Murray, Ann Pettifor, Michael Hudson and others. Be sure to subscribe!
- Tweeting too much.
- I have uploaded a full-length pdf of my recent series “Is the Economic Crisis a Crisis for Economics?’, and have also posted an abridged, listicled (ha) version on Pieria.
- I have written an essay for the new student-led journal Perspectives, started by the Economics Society at King’s College London, which is expected to be published in October. It is on the subject of whether economics is – or should be – a branch of science or philosophy. Incidentally, Noah Smith just wrote an article in a similar vein, but mine is more
- I will still respond to emails at unlearningeconomics at gmail dot com (hopefully more reliably than I have done in the past – sorry!) Alternatively, feel free to comment on my ‘About‘ page.
- Hanging around the blogosphere.
Thanks to my readers, frequent commenters, and followers of various stripes. I will leave you with a few, similar bloggers you should follow if you like my blog, but who I haven’t recommended before (afaik): Cameron Murray at Fresh Economic Thinking; Graham Joncas at Linguistic Capital; Ramanan at The Case for Concerted Action; Squarely Rooted (who wrote this exceptional piece on Piketty); Robert Nielsen; Dan Gay over at Emergent Economics; and Dan Kervick over at Rugged Egalitarianism. Or why not click ‘random post’ in the top left and see if there’s something you haven’t read?
So, erm, keep unlearning, or something…
Since posts have been scant recently (I have things coming up, promise!) I thought I’d do a standard “most popular posts” post. I’ll look at the 5 most popular posts of 2013 on this blog, as well as the 5 posts I most enjoyed writing and the 5 other blogs I’ve enjoyed reading this year. The first list is ranked from highest page-views to lowest, but the others aren’t in any particular order.
Most Popular Posts on This Blog
18 Signs Economists Haven’t the Foggiest (12,857) An off-the-cuff polemic response to Chris Auld’s similar list, this attracted a lot of attention (and ire). I stand by all 18 points in one way or another, although I’ll grant that some (such as 10) are far less common than others (such as 1).
The Dangers of Thinking Like an Economist (10,333) Due largely to a link from Hacker News, this blog post was widely read (apparently by climate change deniers). I actually feel like I didn’t flesh out the analysis as fully as I could have, but the basic points about the ‘economic way of thinking’, and the subjects I highlighted are, in my opinion, important examples of how limiting an economics education can be when discussing social problems.
Yes, Libertarians Really Are Lazy Marxists (6,851). I’m not the first to refer to libertarians as lazy marxists, but I’ve never seen somebody actually write about it in depth. Apparently this struck a chord with a lot of marxists and so was linked to from various commie websites. This surprised me, as I’m not great at political philosophy, but clearly that’s not a necessary condition for being able to criticise libertarianism.*
Sorry, Economists: The Crisis is a Huge Problem for Your Discipline (4,676). Giles-Saint Paul’s exercise in special pleading, attempting to relieve economists from the burden of actually being able to describe the real economy, was one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen written by an economist, which is quite a feat, and it deserved fisking.
Mankiw to the Rescue (of the 1%) (3,545). Another fisking (and another one of the silliest things ever written by an economist), this post concerned Mankiw’s universally derided defence of the top 1% of earners, with its questionable grasp of the facts, 15 year old political philosophy and inconsistent use of economic theory. While it probably wasn’t necessary for me or anyone else to point out the stupidity in Mankiw’s paper explicitly, it was still a lot of a fun to do so.
NB: my FAQ actually got 4,799 views in 2013, but since it was written in 2012 I didn’t count it (and it has the unfair advantage of being linked to in my About section). I’ve also been posting on the website Pieria this year, and though I don’t have access to the views for those posts, a handful of my posts there were on their ‘top 20’ list.
Posts on This Blog I Enjoyed Writing
Economists Say The Funniest Things. ‘Economic Imperialism’ never fails to delight and amuse, and although this post required quite a lot of research, it was probably one of the most rewarding posts I’ve done. Admittedly I was a bit unfair to Irving Fisher in the first draft, but it’s still silly to suggest that workers become socialists largely because of changes in the money supply.
Reconsidering the Labour Theory of Value. The straw man of the LTV that many are willing to refer to as “discredited” may well be untenable. But the actual theory endorsed by Marx, along with its implications about capitalist crises, is far better for understanding the business cycle than any mainstream economic theory I’ve come across. This post was a thumbnail sketch of said theory.
Whig Theories of the History of Thought. As much as everybody hates Paul Krugman posts, as a blogger you unavoidably find yourself having to do one every so often. Here I tried to counter popular myths about naive Keynesianism and how its practitioners were unaware of the possibility of stagflation (as well as the Lucas Critique). Sadly, this caricature of events is often endorsed by both left and right economists.
In Praise of Econometrics. Since a lot of ‘economists’ are mostly asking specific, relatively boring empirical questions, I thought it would be worth clarifying that most of my criticisms are not directed at this kind of work, which is in my opinion of quite a different nature to the pure theoretical aspects of economics. It is true that problematic theoretical concepts (like production functions) are sometimes used in these empirical estimations, but I think that is a problem of application rather than something more fundamental.
Against Friedman: Why Assumptions Matter. Although it’s not news to anybody except the most dyed-in-the wool economist that the assumptions of a theory must be carefully scrutinised, it was good to compile a comprehensive argument for exactly why this is the case.
My Favourite Blogs of 2013
Matt Bruenig. While there aren’t necessarily any stand-out posts (although this recent smackdown of Ezra Klein is amusing), I never fail to delight in Bruenig’s effortless dismissals of libertarian theories of…well, everything. He also does some good policy analysis (including a basic income calculator), and blogs in a similar vein over at Demos.
Chris Dillow (Stumbling and Mumbling). There should probably be a rule against including Chris Dillow on lists like this – everyone can just agree that he’s a Really Good Blogger. His unique mixture of marxist, behavioural and mainstream economic reasoning makes him both endlessly interesting and frustratingly hard to disagree with, even when he is casually tearing your pet beliefs to pieces. Oh, and his sidebar ‘top blogging’ is always worth a look.
Noah Smith (Noahpinion). Despite the fact that Noah’s dismissive attitude toward heterodox economics irritates me, there’s no denying that he is an excellent and consistent blogger. Naturally, I enjoy his posts on macroeconomics, but he also writes interesting things about Japan, has good overviews of economics debates and makes a lot of interesting political/miscellaneous posts.
‘Lord Keynes’ (Social Democracy for the 21st Century: a Post-Keynesian Perspective). This blog has always been a great source of, among other things, post-Keynesian theories and criticisms of Austrian Business Cycle Theory. However, this year LK pushed the boat out with relentless attacks on both marginalist theories of pricing and Mises’ a priori philosophy. An excellent resource for heterodox economists.
David Glasner (Uneasy Money). I expect most people would agree with me that Glasner is one of the best economic bloggers around. Just a glance at the top right hand corner of his blog undoubtedly reveals a handful of must-read posts. He also wrote one of my favourite blog posts of 2013, That Oh So Elusive Natural Rate of Interest, and did an interesting series on the presumably underrated Ralph Hawtrey’s book ‘Good and Bad Trade‘.
Honorable mentions: Corey Robin, whose blogging and book are both excellent, if a little jargon-filled; Robert Vienneau, who posts consistently interesting stuff on economic theory; Left Outside, who is a great follow and whose series on Karl Polanyi and Beijing is a must-read (even if he does support NGDP targeting); Fuck Yeah, Piero Sraffa! who posts a lot of interesting material, although the blog does some to be a bit on and off.
Happy New Year!
I’m happy to say that I’ve had a few blog posts this year that were viewed as much as the top posts on much more popular blogs like naked capitalism, and also that I made the list of top 200 most influential economics blogs. I had 227,037 views in 2013, which was a massive improvement over 2012. I’m not entirely sure how all of this compares to other blogs overall, but in any case I’m glad to have had a continuous rise in readers/commenters relative to where I was before. Here’s hoping 2014 is just as successful.
What did you enjoy reading this year?
*I know, cheap shot. Sorry.
This is just a quick post to let people know that I am not ending the blog. However, readers might have noticed posting has slowed down a bit recently (4 and 3 posts in September and October respectively, versus 6 and 7 in July and August), and this is essentially just because I feel like I have less to say. The reason I started this blog was to get some sort of critical debate over the state of economics and learn (or unlearn, groan) about economics as a field – in other words, the kind of thing that you simply do not find on an economics degree. The blogosphere has definitely delivered in this area, but since I’ve now gotten what I set out to get, I feel I should focus more on other things.
I still have the same basic opinion as when I started the blog: neoclassical/mainstream economics (which exists, no matter what economists say!) is questionable in terms of relevance, coherence and methodology, and is not the only or best way to do ‘economics’, which itself cannot be thought of as an isolated, separate sphere. My opinions on some things have changed: I think some areas of neoclassical theory – as well as econometrics – are worthwhile, and that heterodox economists get some things wrong (the chief one being repeating the same criticisms over and over). My opinion is now less “neoclassical economics is nonsense!1!!” and more “the research program has reached its limitations and needs to be replaced and/or confined to specific spheres”.
However, I am also more optimistic about the discipline changing than I used to be. Real life discussions about the state of economics simply don’t have the same air of hostility as those on the internet – in my experience it’s not difficult to find mainstream economists who will tell you macroeconomics, undergraduate economics and ‘free market’ economics, as well as other areas, are generally garbage. The difficulty lies in trying to get them to think in any other way than the ‘individual agent faced with choices’, but such alternative theories are being developed, and as awareness of them increases, economists will hopefully be able to see things in other ways.
In any case, announcing that I’m “ending the blog” seems like a larger scale version of where somebody in an internet argument says “right, I’m done here” and then after a short break continues replying. Several people have told me attempting to give up blogging is simply futile, and I cannot guarantee that events or economists will not force me to mouth off (like my last post). There are therefore a few possibilities as to how the blog might change after this point:
- I write similar style posts but further apart.
- I write longer, more comprehensive posts but at a much lower rate.
- I start to write shorter posts that deal with a specific thought or idea, or bounce off another bloggers’ post.
So, yeah, stick around! Posting will probably be more sporadic but it will still be there. I’ll also carry on tweeting, though again perhaps less than before. In the mean time, if anyone reading doesn’t yet read these blogs, then you should start.
PS As you might have guessed, this post is actually quite a non-event; I’m just announcing it so I feel less pressure to post regularly.
My views developed and changed substantially over the course of 2011, in no small part thanks to the blogosphere. I thought I’d highlight some of posts that influenced me most, by opening my eyes to previously unknown facts or ways of thinking. Naturally, this list is left-inclined, but I expect most will find the posts interesting.
Delong reveals that, following the crash of 1829, many of the classical economists often appealed to by the anti-Keynes crowd – including Jean-Baptiste Say and John Stuart Mill – came to a somewhat ‘Keynesian’ conclusion about the role of aggregate demand:
Yet Say changed his mind. By 1829, in his analysis of the British financial panic and recession of 1825-6, Jean-Baptiste Say was writing that there could indeed be such a thing as a general glut of commodities after all: “every type of merchandise had sunk below its costs of production, a multitude of workers were without work. Many bankruptcies were declared…”
Apparently the level of 19th century historical revisionism was pretty high.
This is the first example I saw of how selective ‘free market’ proponents are with their logic, and was delivered in excellent satirical form:
Soon after receiving tenure, it occurred to me that we were being profoundly inconsistent. While we had correctly criticized the previous mainstream view that politics involved benevolent efforts to serve the common good, we had failed to apply the same rigor to the community of academic economists. As a result, we were modeling both economic and political actors as self-interested utility-maximizing agents, while continuing to see economics professors as idealistic pursuers of truth. I decided to correct this oversight by developing my theory of Academic Choice, in which economists are theorized as rational agents who continually seek to maximize their future earnings potential.
Peter Dorman sums up how well the ruling class have shifted the intellectual narrative of the crisis, despite losing the battle of ideas:
But Keynes was wrong about the power of “academic scribblers”. Idea-smiths provide language, narratives and tools for those in control, but the broad contours of policy depend on who the controllers happen to be. We are not living through an epoch of intellectual failure, but one in which there is no available mechanism to oust a political-economic elite whose interests have become incompatible with ours.
(This is part of the reason I consider a large amount of public debate to be futile).
Robert Vienneau notes 3 examples of where the conventional wisdom about ‘what economists said’ is completely off: Keynes & sticky wages/prices, the origin of the phrase ‘the dismal science’, and Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’. Short and sharp, but both interesting and important.
We are all familiar with ideas said to be ahead of their time, Babbage’s analytical engine and da Vinci’s helicopter are classic examples. We are also familiar with ideas “of their time,” ideas that were “in the air” and thus were often simultaneously discovered such as the telephone, calculus, evolution, and color photography. What is less commented on is the third possibility, ideas that could have been discovered much earlier but which were not, ideas behind their time.
OK, this was late 2010, but let’s ignore that. This is possibly the most interesting question I have ever seen asked on a blog. I’d suggest that Marx was probably ahead of his time, Adam Smith and Keynes were ‘of their time’, but recently economics has seen an intellectual shift to ‘behind its time’.
Steve Keen sums up exactly why neoclassical economists are wrong about debt, money and banking, and how it affects our current predicament. Enough evidence is provided that I’m not sure how anyone could conclude Keen is wrong.
Stephen Williamson gives us a short review of John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics, in which he effectively throws his hands up in the air and declares DSGE and the EMH to be unfalsifiable. John Quiggin has a go, Noahpinion has a more comprehensive go, Paul Krugman notes it, Williamson gets uppity and confused. Later, Williamson writes another, longer review, in which he makes effectively the same mistake, but this time with rationality. The whole debacle is worth looking at, but Noahpinion’s post is the most comprehensive and is all you really need to know.
David Graeber has managed to blow a significant hole in mainstream and Austrian economics by exposing the myth that barter spontaneously arose and that spot exchange is somehow ‘natural’ to man. Murphy, after reading merely two paragraphs of an interview, took exception to this and posted a response. Graeber’s rebuttal contains a paragraph that sums up my experience of many RW bloggers very succinctly:
However, in the blogsphere, the quality or even intention of an argument often doesn’t matter. I have to assume Murphy was aware that all he had to do was to write something—anything really—and claim it rebutted me, and the piece would be instantly snatched up by a right-wing echo chamber, mirrored on half a dozen websites and that followers of those websites would then dutifully begin appearing across the web declaring to everyone willing to listen that my work had been rebutted.
If you were reading blogs at the time, this one should need no introduction. A demonstration of the poverty of mainstream thought and the implicit separation of ‘good’ from ‘bad’ or ‘shock’ times in economics. A few of the best:
With notably rare exceptions, Germany remained largely at peace with its neighbors during the 20th century.
With notably rare exceptions, Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed the play.
With notably rare exceptions, Achilles was invincible.
With notably rare exceptions, the Roman Empire’s crucifixion policy was successful in containing subversive religious movements among the hoi polloi.
With notably rare exceptions, all animals are equal.
With notably rare exceptions, when you wake up in the morning, you know for a fact that you will still be alive by the end of the day.
Hooray for CT commenters! One of whom, incidentally, is responsible for number 1:
All books are going to have their critics. But there’s criticism and then there’s criticism. Tom Slee’s review of Adapt – a book where Tim Harford praises trial and error as always and everywhere an appropriate method – is the latter. The problem:
Tetlock divided his experts into foxes (good at many things) and hedgehogs (good at one thing) and argued that hedgehogs are over-confident because they “reduce the problem to some core theoretical scheme’… and they used that theme over and over, like a template, to stamp out predictions”. And that’s exactly what Harford does here. He sees evolution as a fox-like strategy (trying many things and selecting a few) but doesn’t notice that at the level of individual species, evolution gives us both foxes and hedgehogs, and both do perfectly fine.
Maybe it’s just me, but the whole review seems to reflect an exceptionally high level of thinking – exactly the kind of thing we need in economics. I haven’t yet read Slee’s book, but based on his blog and the Amazon reviews, I certainly plan to.
Some runners up: Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner both had thought provoking posts, but they’ve internalised too much of the conventional wisdom for me to put them in. David Malone’s comment on the narrative of the crisis was in close competition with Peter Dorman’s, whilst Chris Dillow is always interesting but it’s hard to find a post that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Mike Kimel’s work on his anti-laffer curve is worth a mention, too. Lastly, the D&D section of the SomethingAwful forums is fantastic for countering the standard, capitalism favouring narrative of history – if you go there, prepare to be pulled leftwards.