Profile of this Blog

Stephen Price has written a profile of this blog in the Culture section of today’s Sunday Times. So far as I can tell, this section is not available online – you will have to go the traditional route of buying the paper in order to read it.

There is also an article by John Burns on blogging in Ireland – that is available here.

33 thoughts on “Profile of this Blog”

  1. Philip makes a good point in the interview regarding opportunity costs. I’d say most of the academics who contribute here have at some time or other sent off a piece, unsolicited, to the Irish Times, and have never heard back from the paper. The logical conclusion is that this is a waste of one’s time. This blog makes it much easier to express yourself publicly on policy matters, and as simple theory would predict, the result has been an increase in supply.

  2. PRAISE INDEED

    “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Shakespear

    We for our part are eternally grateful to have lived in a time which has allowed us to bask in the light of your reflected glory.

    Being a Kerryman I know exactly how you feel this morning
    Head and shoulders above all comers.

    “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions—the little soon-forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment in the disguise of a playful raillery, and the countless other infinitessimals of pleasurable thought and genial feeling.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  3. This blog has indeed been a great success. Like a successful TV series, a spin-off should be considered. How about this for a suggestion: a spin-off economics blog.
    No, I am not being facile. There is huge scope for a bridge to be built between academic economics and the intelligent lay person. If quantum mechanics can be popularised, so can economics.
    I would suggest a blog restricted to the list of people down the right hand side of this one (to avoid people like me joining in a race to the bottom). Blogs to be restricted to plain English. Topics should be topical, not arcane and probably restricted to the policy choices of the day (so a super-moderator may have to be nominated). Guests allowed now and again.

  4. @Chris Johns,

    Indeed interesting comment about blog restrictions. However theory does not always square with practice. So if this site was restricted to economists only then it might be the end of the site.

    By allowing other non academic contributions a cross pollination of ideas can be created. In addition this would help break down barriers between business people and academia.

    Its a bit like engineering, the idea progresses to innovation, to invention and then it has to be made work in the real world. Each stage of the development involves modification, tweaking, refinement, going back to the drawing board, until finally the design works in practice under all conditions etc.

    So it can act as a two way process, non economists can learn about economic theory, economists can learn about the consequences of theory implementation from business people etc.

    Also be aware, as I am sure we all are, there are others lurking in the sidelines, not contributing but looking for ideas, logical arguments and reasons. These people might just be certain politicans both in power and in opposition. Don’t forget also the senior civil servants who have to advise the ministers.

    If this site is restricted to economists technical debates only, then cross pollination may not occur, or be limited. Hence this site might lose its value.

    There is of course the possiblity of the site being hi jacked by others trying to drive across black propaganda. Some other sites have suffered in which they are now an embarrasment and should be shut down. But this site has managed to moderate itself well.

  5. @Sporthog
    That’s why i suggested a spin-off: a separate blog about economics. This blog rarely witnesses a discussion between economists about the merits of cutting the minimum wage, the effects of fiscal contraction when real interest rates are significantly positive, if Paul krugman is right and the central insight of the General Theory, ignored by Lucasians, is that Say’s Law does not hold. Etc.

  6. @Sporthog

    There is of course the possiblity of the site being hi jacked by others trying to drive across black propaganda.

    I thought putting forth “black propaganda” was the site’s charter….

  7. @Chris,

    Maybe you are correct, perhaps your idea should be implemented. However Ireland is a small place, and by and large we tend not to have major showdowns between people. For example if my memory serves me correctly there was a bit of a show down between two journalists, John Waters and Fintan O’Toole several years ago. It got a bit complicated and in the end the public did not really understand what was going on. To be honest the public did not really care either.

    So I don’t think we would see many major debates internally within Irish economists, but there could be scope for debates between Irish and American or Japanese economists. Yes I agree there have been differences of opinion within the Irish sphere. But again it takes commitment, carefull preparation, time and effort. By and large most people do not have the time resources for this commitment. I could be wrong of course..

    Alternatively there might be other existing websites which would cover the topics you mentioned.

  8. @Chris Johns

    NO. There is more than enough ‘broke’ around the place at the moment – we leave this instance of positive emergence well enough alone.

  9. The blog does an excellent job bridging the gap between economists and lay people. It would be madness to make such a sweeping change.

  10. Also, such suggestions are writing cheques with other peoples time.
    Most people here are very busy, especially the experts.
    What it is at present is good enough, imo.

    Al

  11. If there is a criticism I may level at Blogs – it is their number. You have to be prudent with your time – so you have to restrict yourself.

    I have learned a great deal from different Blogs: much more than I would have been able to do by routine reading. I still read some, others I have moved on from. They are also useful (to a point) for promoting, whatever; Richard Cantillon for instance. He was the foremost political economist of his time – and he was one of us! Read him and be awed!

    B Peter

  12. @ Ernie Ball,

    Well that gave me a laugh indeed, depends which side of the fence you are on!!!!

    @ Chris,

    Me thinks you are outnumbered, another time perhaps!!

  13. @ Kevin O’Rourke

    An illustration of the cronyism in the Irish mainstream media is that 8 columnists in national newspapers work for rival media organisations – – it’s as if the selected oracles have some superior insight but what is generally produced for the different outlets, are variations on pet themes.

    What the opposition of most of them to the Lisbon Treaty illustrated, is that their experience of the world beyond journalism and politics is very limited.

    Usually in a week, when an individual has to write 2 columns for different newspapers, together with other work, one article if not both, will be of poor quality.

    Besides, unless a reader is in search of the equivalent of comfort food, the line taken after years of doing such work, is likely to be very predictable.

    Very few bother with research and when data is used, it does not appear to be fact checked as a news story would be.

  14. @Sporthog
    Yep, no takers for my inspired suggestion. But I think Ernie’s contribution reinforces the rationale for a debate amongst consenting adults, rather than self-referential rants which, thank goodness, this site only occasionally witnesses.

  15. I think there is merit in the idea of a separate, more academic, blog to run parallel to the present more topical policy oriented one. But you need someone to moderate it, mainly to keep the crazies out whose presence here is more than occasional I think. So you would need to define “consenting adults” i.e. serious economists. Then it all gets very messy, accusations of cliques, elitism, ideological bias [this is made anyway] etc etc. The present arrangement is probably as good as it gets.
    One simple way of raising the level of discussion here would be not to allow anonymous posts. After all, that is how academic discourse normally occurs.

  16. @Al
    I don’t think I suggested making any of this like taxation – compulsory.

    @Kevin
    As you say, there are plenty of accusations about elitism & cliques already. Just as nobody is forced to write, nobody is obliged to read. If nobody comes, there is no party. No supply or demand.
    There is scope for more popular academic economics. There is nothing more soliatry (elitist?) than a book written by one expert. Encouraging a particular type of dialogue between academics that we could all listen to, while keeping the nutters out, seems a worthy aim.
    Arguably, acedemics talking exclusively to themselves contributed to the mess that economics is in today.

  17. I didnt get to buy the Times today, so forgive the potential repetition.
    This blog seemed to distinguish itself by filling a void of information opinion that several forces in Irish life did not fill.

    The politicans sung from the party hymn sheet are regards economic theory and polict formulation. Listening to some of them on the radio bat for NAMA etc, was embarassing to human reason and aided and abetted by the interviewers who ‘filled the segment’.

    The politicans found it very hard to deal with some of the economists that post on this site. Brian Lucey in particular took no shiv from them and was well able to engage the rhetoric. The references by the Pol’s to ‘internet sites and blogs’ as part of the problem showed that they werent used to such a challenge.

    Brian and Karl, et al, also were alot more forceful in their truth telling than the usual sock puppetry that passed from economic commentary thru the boom.

    I think the more important aspect of the blog, was the light it shone on the media’s … weaknesses, specifically the commentary and opinion shop.
    The usual suspects, and no offense to any of them, who earn their coin providing opinion on the weekly were challenged by the economic events and sought to wing it, denounce the 46, or join in the Blog, Tip of the hat to Sarah.
    One of the lamer media events, imo, was Noel Whelans piece a few months ago that sought to scold in a fashion imitiating what the political class were doing.
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0829/1224253462315.html

    It is perhaps how the establishment in Ireland deal with challenges, where the man is tackled instead of the ball.
    Overall the site works well, those with the big brains initiate the posts, and us plebs try our best to follow, question, be funny, etc, etc.

    Interesting year ahead economically!!!
    Prison and hunger strikes for the 46 possibly.
    Merry Christmas and A Happy new year to all here

    Al

  18. “Philip makes a good point in the interview regarding opportunity costs. I’d say most of the academics who contribute here have at some time or other sent off a piece, unsolicited, to the Irish Times, and have never heard back from the paper. The logical conclusion is that this is a waste of one’s time.”

    I was in the midst of doing a regular column for a construction industry magazine during the building boom. Granted my articles were a little bit ‘off the wall’ but there was a good bit of enthuasiasm put into them and it was only filling up a small side bar in the construction industry periodical.

    The trouble was the column had to compete with so much other advertisment of building materials and products, that the column got squeezed out after an initial couple of publishings. I still thought it was a good periodical and would still read it monthly. Except, the articles were all very rigidly focussed on building products and advertising the companies associated with various products.

    That is the reality with print I guess, and one simply has to find other ways to serve the same audience who would have read my column to begin with. I was amazed actually, for the couple of sidebars I did manage to publish, the number of people I met in my daily affairs who had taken the trouble to read it! So these printed periodicals do enjoy a decent enough circulation. No doubt about it. They still have their place.

    The thing to remember too is, I wasn’t interested in journalism as a paying job. I wanted to live the dream so to speak and get up to my neck in the construction industry itself, not just the magazine. I was impinging seriously on very valuable ‘sidebar space’ that other real journalists could have earned money to occupy.

  19. The worst I ever came across in the architectural profession was a member of institute of architects who submitted a genuine concerned comment to the institute on something they published in their monthly journal, but never received so much as an acknowledgement from the journal. It was a full formal letter by one member of the profession to the institute – it was ignored completely.

    I decided to test this out myself as I knew the president of the institute personally. I told him I was employed for ‘such and such’ (I didn’t mention the formal letter). Without any prompt-ing, the president of the institute aggressively responded to me ‘what are you going working for that fella?’.

    I cannot say the response was a surprise. Having grown up from seventeen years of age exposed to the architect’s competitive culture, I hardly notice this competitive-ness anymore. I put it down to the artistic over zealous-ness and immaturity of members of the profession.

    However, the exchange did prove 2 no. things. Firstly, it confirmed for me the said professional member was being ‘blacked out’ by the insitutute of architects. (in more ways than one) Secondly, the said member who was ‘blacked out’ happens to be in my humble opinion, the best professional architect I have had the privelege of working with – idiosyncracies aside.

    It is a pity members of the same ‘club’ of such obvious talent and qualification cannot pool their resources together in some useful fashion, rather than doing their best to best one another. Waste. That was the concern I was trying to express in this recent comment:

    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/12/16/investing-in-electricity-infrastructure-and-renewables-in-ireland/#comment-28487

  20. This blog has been a fantastic addition to public debate in Ireland. There is no question on that.

    We need however to be careful that we don’t think we are more important than we are.

    Concurrent with the debate on NAMA, I was also involved in a situation on family law/administration of things familial. Thousands of people, literally, lobbied the oireachtas members, met them in their constituency offices, phoned etc etc, to no avail. I use avail here to refer to the willingness of the vast majority of members to educate themselves on the issue or to move beyond the reflexive placing of a question which invariably elicited a boilerplate non-response. My most revealing and depressing moment came when I spoke to a number of backbenchers and senators (govt side), asking why they had acted in a particular way, to vote down a technical issue. The response from them all can be summarised by one – “I will never ever in any circumstances vote against the party line”. This was from someone in whose own personal and familial interests we were in effect campaigning.

    I realised then that if people are willing to sublimate their own children’s and spousal interests and health to avoid crossing party lines that the political system was irredeemably flawed. I am sure that some will see this as a noble sublimation of self to state. I however knew then that if they would not budge on what nationally was a minor matter, agreed in principle but stalled in practice, then there was zero chance that they would budge on NAMA. So we need to realise that, as I have repeatedly said, we are in the realm of political economy – a parade of nobel laureates and domestic professors stating x will be as snow on the ditch when it comes to the heat of the whips office if “not x” is determined. Thats not a counsel of despair, as we need to keep JM Keynes views on the longterm impact of economics on politics in mind. It is a counsel of realism, I think.

    Oh, and to second Kevin Denny, no thanks on the offer of hunger strikes, no matter that a few kilos (or a few dozen indeed) could well be lost on my part!

  21. Re Philip’s original post:
    The Sunday Times – perhaps due to Murdoch’s intention to do battle with Google, perhaps and more plausibly due to poor site construction which makes it harder for Google to index – tends to take 10-15 days to be indexed by Google. Short version: it will be online… eventually.

    Re the discussion:
    I think this site has been an excellent addition to public discourse in a crucial year, from short posts that reveal what the good and the great of Irish economics are reading (you know who you are!) to longer posts that dissect in great detail the latest in economic policy (you know who you are!). Here’s to 2010!

    PS. Given that the readership here is more open to stats than most, for those curious may be interested to know that Alexa now ranks irisheconomy.ie in the Top 1,000 visited sites in Ireland:
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/http%3A%2F%2Fwww.irisheconomy.ie%2Findex.php%2F2009%2F12%2F20%2Fprofile-of-this-blog#trafficstats

  22. Philip Lane and contributing colleagues deserve immense gratitude for this initiative and for their continuing inputs (and patience!). But, following on from Brian Lucey’s observations, does it not frequently reveal more and more heads being banged ineffectually against the wall erected by this elected dictatorship (and this is not an FF/Green bashing observation)?

    And I’m sure that Keynes’s response to the neoclassical contention that, irrespective of short run fluctuations, in the long run equilibrium would be achieved, of “In the long run, we are all dead” is well known. As, I expect, is a more modern take: “This is the long run, Keynes is dead and we’re all f***ed.”

    I’m not entirely convinced that waiting for the scribblings of some now unfeted economist to enlighten future policymakers is an appropriate response to the current mess – either in Ireland or futher afield.

  23. @ Brian L
    Apologies for the dense responce.
    But Founding Fathers are always worth considering.
    Especially in this Orphan republic.

    Federalist No 9: (Hamilton)
    “A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated…”

    Federalist No 10 (Madison)
    “AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. … The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.

    “It will be found … that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found … that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes, …, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly … effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

    “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens … who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
    There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.
    There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.”

    Anyone get his far?

    Al

  24. State inertia or opportunity? Up to ourselves over the coming years. For better or for worse, the state in Ireland represents a much better arena for some kind of action to occur than does the private sector.

    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/12/16/investing-in-electricity-infrastructure-and-renewables-in-ireland/#comment-28955

    In retrospect, looking at the private sector in Ireland (even in boom times) with a cool analytical gaze, one can see it was never at ‘dynamic’ as we liked to believe. This deserves even more cool analytical gaze-ing by someone a lot more perceptive than myself.

    The private sector in Ireland, where I have spent the vast portion of my time and energy was a lot like a dog chasing a bone. The bone represented by some nodescript policy or adjustment in taxation made by the Dept. of Finance to influence activity levels and orientation. It seems to work to change activity levels and orientation, but does it do any lasting good? Is it simply about wheel-spinning for the sake of wheel-spinning.

    Or as Pat McArdle said in his Friday IT article, running hard simply to stand still.

    Noam Chomsky in a recent interview on Pat Kenny’s show on TV, the Frontline, made reference to Fintan O’Toole’s work – the private sector we refer to as ‘capitalism’ or the market – it really doesn’t operate like the books describe. But rather depends constantly on some for of subsidy or incentive, getting back to the dog with the bone analogy.

    I can live with that. But what I cannot live with is the fact that our ‘dog’ in Ireland doesn’t seem to have developed very much sense over the course of the past decade. We haven’t trained it to do very many new tricks. Maybe the old tricks are the best? If one is to accept the Noam Chomsky/Fintan O’Toole thesis, our policy should aim to implement an environment, whereby the dog is free to expand it’s mind.

    Whereby the dog doesn’t waste a decade sheep-ishly following verbatim instructions dished out by the master. Instructions that are only half-baked and half well thought out, to begin with. But the dog hones its own natural instincts a little bit better. I fear than instead of breed-ing some ferocious and battle-worthy creature like the Irish wolf hound, instead we have produced something pretty lazy and un-resource-ful.

  25. @ Chris John et al,
    Chris is right: these issues are important and need debate.
    An uncle of mine who came through the civil war and had a significant influence on a lot of agricultural developments used to cut us short when we got tied up in party political debates: “Politics is economics” . And even though he despised De Valera, he would evaluate Fianna Fail policies as evenly as Fine Gael ones. “Politics is economics”
    So we had better understand the tools that are available to understand that world.
    This understanding can only come through those who use those tools on a regular basis.
    A concentrated dose of it could however produce a similiar mental effect to the digestive effect of a pork steak every day. So have it as part of this blog, not as a meal in itself.
    Chris suggests
    ” a blog restricted to the list of people down the right hand side of this one (to avoid people like me joining in a race to the bottom). Blogs to be restricted to plain English. Topics should be topical, not arcane and probably restricted to the policy choices of the day (so a super-moderator may have to be nominated). Guests allowed now and again.”
    with subjects such as:
    “if Paul krugman is right and the central insight of the General Theory, ignored by Lucasians, is that Say’s Law does not hold. Etc.”
    My suggestion is for a side-bar referendum where Chris or anyone can suggest a topic, with a link to where that topic is already available. Put a poll-meter on each suggestion and wait for an economist to bite and write a blog on this site, in among the regular postings.
    A list of all the suggestions is important to provide transparency and to address Brian Hanlon’s point of insider selectivity.
    If Philip were prepared to organise the set-up that would be fine, but it may not be in his skill-set or he may not have the time. In that case, there are surely one or two web-masters who appreciate what this site provides and who could contribute their time as a partial recompense for the benefit that all of us have got from the forum.
    @Paul Hunt
    You may well be correct in doubting the effectiveness of the theories put forward in this blog in solving the current mess. But whatever about the theories, the process that happens here of unravelling ideas in a very public domain is a resource that deserves to be nourished

  26. One of the key resources that this blog has provided is links to primary sources of information. It is difficult for the amateur to keep up with policy across different areas – we now live in a more complicated economic world with EU, ECB, BIS, IMF, OECD, Eurostat issuing edicts/opinions/research in addition to the CSO and the DoF. In addition to links to and informed commentary on these organs is wider publicity for domestic academics. That too can only be good for public debate, not only on the basis of transmission of ideas (shouting in the dark is a bit of a waste of time), but for promoting the idea that there is more than one way to skin the cat.

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