World Bank: The Impact of Economics Blogs

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This new World Bank Policy Research working paper looks at the impact of economics blogs

Summary: There is a proliferation of economics blogs, with increasing numbers of economists attracting large numbers of readers, yet little is known about the impact of this new medium. Using a variety of experimental and non-experimental techniques, this study quantifies some of their effects. First, links from blogs cause a striking increase in the number of abstract views and downloads of economics papers. Second, blogging raises the profile of the blogger (and his or her institution) and boosts their reputation above economists with similar publication records. Finally, a blog can transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers.

33 Responses to “World Bank: The Impact of Economics Blogs”

  1. PR Guy Says:

    “Finally, a blog can transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers.”

    Some might observe that some views on here are far too entrenched for attitudes to be transformed ;-)

  2. Brian O'Dwyer Says:

    What about the impact of economics blogs about the impact of Economics Blogs?

  3. Peter Stapleton Says:

    What about the opportunity cost of blogging? Does it detract from refereed publications?

  4. desmond brennan Says:

    Some stats about this blog would be interesting

    Total views broken down by country etc

    It’s quite easy to get Google Analytics up and running, and it gives very impressive reports out of the box

  5. EWI Says:

    Second, blogging raises the profile of the blogger (and his or her institution) and boosts their reputation above economists with similar publication records.

    Celebrity economists! Someone page Richard Tol quickly…

  6. Brendan Says:

    Well, if writing blogs keeps economists off the street and out of the pubs then I am all for it!

  7. aiman Says:

    “Total views broken down by country etc”

    My view has been broken down by the country. I’d prefer if it had been broken down by sex, mind.

    (Apologies for age of joke).

  8. ObsessiveMathsFreak Says:

    Some might observe that some views on here are far too entrenched for attitudes to be transformed ;-)

    Are you talking about the posters or the commenters?

  9. Ludwig Heinrich Edler Says:

    A new study has found that newspaper articles increase the awareness of readers on the subjects covered by those newspaper articles.

    The same study also found that people who have teabags in their kitchen press are significantly more likely to drink tea than those who do not have teabags in their kitchen press.

  10. Paul Hunt Says:

    I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I wouldn’t have encountered this interesting WB research paper without logging on here. For this, much thanks.

    And a suggested conclusion of the paper, “that there may be an undersupply of good economics blogs”, rings true. As I have pointed out previously – and this is the case particularly in the Irish context – a large number of people put their trust in priests and bishops, elected politicians (and those they appointed to formulate, implement and administer policy) and bankers, respectively, to provide moral guidance, to govern in the public interest and to manage their businesses responsibly. That trust has been destroyed and there is a demand for an explanation of what went wrong and what needs to be done to put it right.

    And, because most of the failings were in the area of economic policy and governance, this might explain the popularity of this blog and the rise of the so-called ‘celebrity economists’ seeking to satisfy this public demand for an ‘explanation’ and a plausible narrative that might lead, without too much pain or effort, to the sunlit uplands.

    But what of the supply provided here? We are all hugely indebted to Philip and his fellow contributors as the opportunity cost is high. The public enlightenment benefit is enormous. For example, probably the most useful post was Karl Whelan’s link to some undergraduate lecture notes that highlighted the difference between bank liquidity and solvency.

    Although correlation does not imply causation, it is interesting that quite a few of the more prolific and insightful contributors have been absorbed in to the ‘government machine’ – and there are hints from some of an unrequited desire to be so absorbed. In some cases, this has terminated their contribution; in other cases, it has clearly limited their ability to contribute and the nature of their contributions; and indeed in some cases, contributors have been already ‘embedded’ and, thereby, comprised or conflicted in some way – the paucity of posts may provide some evidence of this.

    From the perspective of Government (and of the government machine) this is a very effective and efficient way of managing and, where desirable, of closing down public debate. It also encourages the debate to be channelled to focus on the behaviour of external parties over whom we have no control and to divert attention from policy and regulatory dysfunction that require urgent remedy – and is fully within our control.

    The balance of posts is skewed hugely in the direction of the former category with very little attention paid to – or subsequent reader interest in – the latter category. This, again, is very much in the interests of Government and the government machine.

    And this, perhaps, is not surprising. Much economic analysis is based on axioms and on stylised descriptions that deviate so much from reality as to be useless – and, unfortunately, in many cases to be supportive of the Neocon hegemony. And it is even worse in a small economy where everyone in any position of authority or influence seems to know everyone else in similar positions.

    For example, at the moment, there is huge activity going on behind the scenes in the context of the Troika’s requirements for the Government to tackle the inefficiencies and monopoly profit gouging of the private sheltered sectors, to come up with semi-state privatisation proposals and to conduct a detailed assessment of the electricity and gas sectors. But you’d get no hint of this from reading this blog.

  11. zhou_enlai Says:

    On a related aside, people might be in psychologist Philip Tetlock’s views on expertise and the kinds of experts who [often unfortunately] influence the public. I came across him recently in a medical matters podcast from Radio 4. Just google his name.

    I have found this blog hugely educational. It has directed me towards reputable resources. The fact that academics respect various sources means I don’t have to pay the large transaction costs of learning about such sources and risk being overly influenced by one reporter’s endorsement or by amateur reviews on amazon.

    The three best online resources I have come across in the last few years have been this blog, the LSE public events podcasts and the BBC Radio 4 podcasts. Previously, I had found the IIASA podcasts very educational.

  12. veronica Says:

    Interesting paper, if a little narrow in its focus. What draws the likes of me to sites like this is a quest for information, quality analysis and a different perspective on the issues to conventional political spin and the framing agendas of the mainstream media. Economics blogs need to preserve a balance between campaigning on issues and providing access to quality information that broadens perspective. Too much campaigning and they risk alienating the political and administrative elites whose decisions they seek to influence; even if the respective campaigns open up access for economists to the mainstream media, confer ‘celebrity’ status, at least temporarily, on certain individuals, enhance career prospects of others etc. The question is, once this crisis has passed, will economists find they are once again classified as mere purveyors of the ‘dismal science’ or have they, through the use of social media, found their voice and carved out an enduring presence in the arena of public debate?

  13. hoganmahew Says:

    @Ludwig
    “The same study also found that people who have teabags in their kitchen press are significantly more likely to drink tea than those who do not have teabags in their kitchen press.”
    I believe that has now been debunked. A new study found that the difference in net tea drinking between those with teabags and those without to be statistically insignificant once the dynamic equilibrium of the overall beverage market is considered. As this study proves that no-one is consuming significant amounts of tea, there is a tea-saving glut going on with cupboards stuffed full of unused bags. These are contributing little or nothing to the overall beverage market. Luckily, Central Cafe can print tea-bags that synthetically track the expected tea consumption. In this way, it is possible to arbitrage the tea space between hot water and coffee…

  14. Peter Stapleton Says:

    @ludwig @hoganmahew

    It is possible that you are both misinterpreting the data on tea bags. Maybe those with large stocks in their kitchens hold regular Tea Parties!

  15. hoganmahew Says:

    :D

  16. Kevin Donoghue Says:

    The impact of blogging is hard to predict. When presented with the phrase “romantically linked with Angelina Jolie” Google’s first thought, apparently, is of Australian economist John Quiggin.

  17. seafóid Says:

    I have also found the blog to be very educational. Every so often there is a superb link. I wouldn’t have come across Pete Lunn’s ESRI paper on decision making bias in the banks without the blog.

    I have become more aware of how information is managed and released in our supposedly open societies. Many of the people who would benefit from the insights here will never get to read them.

    Irisheconomy.ie sheds much light on Irish politics. In a time of disillusionment which also features the ongoing exposure of elite ineptitude I appreciate the competence and most of all the decency of the contributors. Kevin O Rourke’s letter from Dublin was magnificent.

  18. Gavin Kostick Says:

    @ Hogan, Ludwig, Peter, etc

    “The same study also found that people who have teabags in their kitchen press are significantly more likely to drink tea than those who do not have teabags in their kitchen press.”

    You are also overlooking negative teabags.

    This frequently occurs in student households, where some students are teabag ‘horders’ and others are teabag ‘spenders’. This leads to the vexed issue of teabag debt.

    Teabag hoarders, may in fact drink less tea than non-tea buyers (tea-totallers), as they accumulate into order to put tea spenders in their debt.

    Tea-debt forgiveness is a long standing painful subject, and is often attempted through nationally accepted (and efficiently regulated, Paul Hunt) bag conversion rate: EG one standard bag = one round of washing up mugs, enough butter for a single slice of toast, provision of a set of lecture notes, etc.

    The tea-bag debt laffer curve is very interesting as it appears to go nowhere as the tea-bag debt mounts, then as the ‘tea-bag debt’ hits the equivalent of the smallest box in a Spa, Centra or similar, it may suddenly hop to payment in full.

    If though, this point is passed and the debt is not paid, then suddenly the tea-bag hoarder may find themselves dangerously exposed to the further removal of cans of supermarket-brand lager from the fridge, yesterday’s spagetti bolognaise, the last of the corn flakes, etc, as the debtor hits the ‘f*ckit’ point, and goes all out.

    A full systemic collapse occurs when the deposit from the house can no longer be obtained, due to the disastrous feuding and destructive behaviour of the tennants.

    Then the ECB steps in.

  19. hoganmahew Says:

    @Kevin Donoghue
    Unfortunately, Google’s attempts to bias what you see based on what you previously looked at is making it a less useful tool than it has been in the past.

    @Gavin Kostick
    So ECB = Everyone Craves Bags?

  20. Shay Begorrah Says:

    @hoganmayhew @11:50am

    Google’s attempt to automate confirmation bias is to be applauded, tiring personal cognitive error may soon be a thing of the past. Taken together with the kind of political calming apparently undertaken by Twitter we will soon all hold utterly unshakeable beliefs about things that do not matter.

    Football may soon be redundant.

  21. EWI Says:

    @ veronica

    a quest for information, quality analysis and a different perspective on the issues to conventional political spin and the framing agendas of the mainstream media.

    This should be good. And what, pray “framing agendas” do you as a professional PR shill object to?

  22. PR Guy Says:

    @hoganmahew

    “So ECB = Everyone Craves Bags?”

    No, ECB = European Carpet Baggers. Probably a very appropriate term.

    @EWI

    What’s with the “PR shill”? We’ve all got to earn a living somehow. What business are you in? Saintliness? Trudging the streets at all hours, bringing hot soup to the homeless? Setting up schools in third world countries?

    @OMF

    I couldn’t possibly answer that question :-)

  23. EWI Says:

    @ PR Guy

    We’ve all got to earn a living somehow.

    Weakest justification for the parasitic PR “industry” ever?

  24. veronica Says:

    @PR Guy,

    EWI is just a troll of the flat-headed variety. Best advice is to ignore him.

  25. EWI Says:

    @ veronica

    Good advice for dealing with PR practitioners of all stripes. You’ve done more damage to this country than politicians, bankers and lawyers combined.

  26. PR Guy Says:

    @veronica

    Sounds like good advice. I notice that the TLA never answered my question.

  27. veronica Says:

    @ PR Guy,

    Didn’t you know? He’s Dublin’s answer to Mother Teresa.

    By the way, I enjoy your contributions on this site. Very useful insights into politics.

  28. Paul Hunt Says:

    And there I was moithering about the ability of the government machine to emasculate economic blogs and to channel, manage or close down debate that might get too close to the bone and, look, we can do it ourselves without any external pressure or guidance. Silly me.

  29. grumpy Says:

    Every Greenspan testimony used to contain references to “the democratisation of credit” ie CDOs via |SPVs facilitating sub-prime lending and the reduction of risk premia.

    Not really a good idea, the “credit” part anyway.

    Blogs like this one facilitate the democratisation of economics.

    There was a time when timely, incisive economic analysis used to be sifted out of the forest of paper that landed every morning on City desks, photocopied, and handed over at boozy lunches to others who didn’t have the appropriate trading flow with the originator’s firm to be on the research list. The next week it might be the other way round.

    Some politicians and wedged-up clients might get sent stuff. This brilliant (from a political viewpoint) speech by John Smith (near the top) , is the first really public reference I can recall.

    http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1992/sep/24/economic-policy#S6CV0212P0_19920924_HOC_70

    (that debate is worth reading for resonances with the current EZ machinations – eg the laughter at the idea of a coordinated EU response.

    That interested people with an Internet connection can access high level debate and “get above the retail” rather than just those in professional positions that give them access could enhance the democratic process.

    @Paul Hunt

    One of the reasons an appointment to an arm of government causes people to clam up is that they start to share the politicians’ problem of thinking that their position means they cannot risk allowing the impression they don’t know or understand everything – or that someone might think of afact, line, angle or interpretation that they hadn’t. It leads to silence, spin and stonewalling.

    Haven’t written off McH yet ;-)

  30. seafóid Says:

    @Paul Hunt

    I imagine “the Germans” brought in with the IMF bailout have been noting how things are done in Ireland and comparing with best international practice. The absence of a comprehensive legal framework , the tolerance of ineptitude, the lack of catastrophe planning , the steps that lead up to the bank guarantee, the hail mary policy context and so on. I imagine there will be an assessment at some point where the representatives of the nation will be told that Ireland can’t afford such behaviour in the future. That the margins that permitted it in the past have disappeared. Because it’s someone else’s money.

  31. The Dork of Cork Says:

    @Paul
    You seem a really honorable although perhaps a overly conservative type of man.
    Its a shame Hibernia is infested with Gombeens of rare distinction.
    You are swimming in a pool of slurry really – the place is setting itself up for a full breakdown crisis when our children grow up…… and they will ask why ?

  32. Paul Hunt Says:

    @grumpy,

    Your insights nearly always hit the mark – without being unjustifiably cynical, but I think you’re off the pace a tad on this :-)

    A good friend, with a few more miles on the clock, once advised me never to underestimate the slipperiness of an Irish civil servant. I’m well aware that civil service ‘slipperiness’ is a universal phenomenon, but the Irish variety has its own distinctive attributes. Perhaps some are derived from centuries of dealing with the English imposition of rules and regulations without consent – presenting a superficial nodding, grinning, smiling expression of compliance (with ‘mental reservations’ fortifying the devout) while doing every thing possible behind the scenes to bend and break the rules and frustrate their application.

    It is possible that this learned behaviour has become so ingrained that we are doing it to ourselves – with the inevitable results we see around us.

    And as for John McHale (and others of his integrity and calibre), I fear they will grind him down. It’s their raison d’etre. It angers me when I see people with demonstrable professional capability and integrity ensnared in the webs of deceit they spin. (The ESRI on energy policy is a perfect example.) But the professionals involved do have a choice; though, perhaps, making that choice is too costly in terms of damage to one’s livelihood.

    @seafoid,

    Agree, but see above. Our external masters may propose, but the government machine will dispose.

  33. Paul Hunt Says:

    Just to follow on – and probably close out since we seem to be running out of steam or have been overtaken by so many posts. I realise I may come across as being excessively critical of those who, by virtue of their talents and efforts, have secured positions of influence and responsibility, but who have not, in my view, exercised this influence or responsibility in the public interest. In other contexts Michael Hennigan, similarly, has railed at those in positions of authority and influence who could clearly see what was happening, but failed, as per the late John Healy, to shout stop.

    I accept that it is particularly difficult for those appointed to positions of influence or responsibility in the public policy sphere to ‘tell it as it is’, since those who appoint them – and who ultimately make the policy decisions – enjoy a constitutional and democratic legitimacy. Adopting a public adversarial approach can very easily be characterised as undermining the democratic process – and, therefore, suppressed.

    Once a person is ‘within’, it is almost impossible to contest publicly a policy decision – however wrong-headed it might appear in the context of economic theory and practice. There may be some scope to limit the detrimental impacts by remaining and seeking to persuade from ‘within’. But the ructions needed to delay or halt a particularly egregious piece of policy could easily lead to self-ejection.

    Once ‘within’, in a tightly-knit and small economy and society, to be contrarian – and to be seen as contrarian – incurs very high economic and social costs. And for those with relevant expertise – both ‘within’ and ‘without’ – the libel and slander laws seriously close down investigation and critique.

    It is far safer, easier and more remunerative to remain a ‘whistle-sucker’ rather than become a ‘whistle-blower’.

    But this should not be the only choice confronting those in appointed positions of influence or responsibility. Those who exercise political power and authority retain constitutional legitimacy and some measure of democratic legitimacy; what is lacking – and what they are intent to make sure will continue to be lacking – is effective scrutiny and democratic accountability. There is huge scope and a requirement for a formal engagement of those with relevant knowledge and expertise to participate in the process of democratic scrutiny and accountability. But this has to to initated by the Oireachtas completely separately from government – and the government machine.

    In the same way that TDs should have the career options of being either well-regarded legislators or of being in government, those with relevant public policy expertise should have the options of either assisting the executive or of assisting the legislature to scrutinise and hold the executive to account.

    There is just one path at the moment; for TDs to be in government or nowhere; and for those with public policy expertise to be in the government machine or left wittering on economics blogs and in the mainstream media.

    It is for the Oireachtas to create the demand for the expertise to assist it to hold the government properly to account, but while governments exercise such excessive executive dominance uncontested by TDs it will never happen. Blogs of this nature are no substitute; they allow some necessary critiques to be aired, they certainly help to advance economic literacy among members of the public – and they allow people to blow off some steam, but they do not have – nor should they have – political traction. The mainstream media are a total waste of space since journalists seem to have the attention span of gnats – and, given the constraints on the resources available for detailed investigations and sustained coverage of key issues, are probably not allowed to sustain attantion for any longer than that.

    And so we end up back with our backbench TDs – of all factions and none. Lord, help us all.

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