Canadian Business blogger Andrew Potter calls it the economists' election. "This is the first election," he writes, "in which a large number of Canadian economists are making direct, unmediated, real-time interventions into the debates over policy and the various party platforms."
The obvious story is that technological change has made it possible for economists to blog, tweet, etc. But sociologists could be blogging, or political scientists, or philosophers. Why economists?
The average journalist has a background in a subject relatively distant from economics. As specialist wordsmiths, many are uncomfortable with quantitative analysis. Other university graduates -- mathematicians, engineers, accountants, philosophers - may have a relatively higher comfort level with quantitative or analytic reasoning. An economist, unmediated, can speak directly to that audience.
It could also be the case that journalists have a good understanding of economics, but economists underestimate journalists' ability, and/or don't trust anyone to translate their work. Or journalists underestimate the general public's ability to understand economics.
A good economic explanation of the rise of the public economist must also take into account people's incentives. The fact that economists and journalists have different skill sets means that journalists have an incentive to bring economics bloggers on board. Kevin Milligan's technical analysis of Tax Free Savings Accounts will not be drawing many eyeballs away from the Life pages, but it might bring in additional readers, who would otherwise not read the Globe and Mail newspaper on-line. More readers form a rising tide that raises all boats. A political science or sociology blogger, however, might be more likely to take away a journalist's job.
Why might economists have more of an incentive to blog or tweet than sociologists or political scientists?
Economics is a hierarchical discipline, where the quality of publications are strictly ranked. In some disciplines, one can say "I belong to the Applied Orthogonality School, I publish my work in Studies in Applied Orthogonality, the leading journal in Applied Orthogonality studies." That doesn't work as well in economics. Faced with an ethos that says "publish in American Economic Review or don't bother," an academic with a low probability of successfully publishing in AER might rationally choose not to bother. A blog post can have a greater impact on real-time policy debates in any event.
Another reason why public economists are more prevalent than, say, public sociologists has to do with the nature of economic theory. Intermediate microeconomics or macroeconomics offers a simple analytical framework that can be used to evaluate just about anything. "People respond to incentives" is an intelligible idea that generates useful, non-obvious insights. Intersectionality theory -- "the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relationships and subject formations" -- probably would shed light on the latest election developments also. But it's a relatively harder to concept to explain and apply in 400 words or less.
But perhaps the most convincing explanation can be found in Keynes' General Theory. The "two most delightful occupations" are, in his words, "authorship and experimental farming." Blogging is a blast.