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I understand you perfectly.... your story is exactly mine. I was Chairman of my Dept., latter on provost (7 years adm. work)at CIDE, Mexico City, and now I am on sabbatical doing pretty much the same as you. I am macroeconomist and I started a couple of months ago a Blog Tintero Economico Diario. Really, I totally agree with you.


As a private sector economist, I've found the same thing, blogging really hones your ability to explain things clearly (important when a client asks a question out of the blue about exchange rates, or the financial crisis or whatever.

Curiously enough, I haven't actually spent much time thinking about this issue. The principal motivation behind starting WCI was to improve the level of popular economics commentary in Canada. I had few illusions about the power of my insights: there many, many people to whom I would defer on many, many points. The problem is that those people are not blogging, for reasons I described in my very first post. Someone had to do something.

The point about how blogging improves teaching is one that I hadn't thought about, but it certainly rings true for me. Last year, I was given the second half of the undergraduate intermediate macro sequence to teach, and when I looked through the usual menu of textbooks, I realised that they didn't deal with what Canadian (or even Québécois) macroeconomists really needed to know. Most of our textbooks are adapted from those written for the US market, so international macro is generally treated as a special topic covered in a chapter unrelated to everything else. But one thing I had learned while blogging was that international macro was the only thing that mattered in discussions of Canadian macro policy. I ended up choosing to work from the second half of the Krugman-Obstfeld text. I think my students appreciate the choice, and not only because it saves them money: the first half of the text is covered in their trade course.

Interest post Nick. Unlike you I am not tenured, but am on the tenure track so I do sometimes question the time I spend reading blogs and posting on my own blog. However, for all the reasons you listed above I believe I am a better economist because of my time in the economics blogosphere.

I'm not sure to what degree---if any---you're interested in the perspective of a non-economist, but for what it's worth let me offer some thoughts on the value of your blog from the perspective of a business journalist.

On the positive side, I applaud your efforts to smack down the silliness perpetrated by idiots like Neil Reynolds in the Globe. He is truly horrible and big shout out to you for calling him on his nonsense. That, by itself, makes Worthwhile Canadian Initiative a valuable public service. Also hugely valuable (at least to me) have been your posts on the difference between the Canadian and US economic situations, on school choice, on Austrian economics. And much appreciated has been the general civility of tone. I think both you and Stephen are gents and should be congratulated on maintaining a forum that manages to be not only enlightening, but also thoroughly decent in its treatment of commenters and issues.

So what don't I like? Well, the refusal to be tough as tough on your own brethren as you are on interlopers like Reynolds. After twenty odd years of listening to economists spout, I'm more convinced than ever that economics is really just ideology dressed up as science. One example: if I see that someone I'm interviewing has a graduate degree from UWO, I know what I'm going to hear---the market is always right, let's get government out of the way, blah, blah, blah. All of this would be far more convincing if it were coupled with any ability to forecast or any talent for spotting emerging problems.

Nothing was funnier in 1999 than to interview most academic economists. You see, despite the gaping, gob-smacking insanity of the stock market at that juncture, it HAD to be right---efficient markets and all. Read the comments of your colleagues from that era and wince.

Same goes for the past few years. There was obvious evidence of a housing bubble, but again the market HAD to be right--and economists from CMHC, the banks and academia were happy to applaud the market's perspicacity. Let's see how that turns out.

All of this is to say that I truly appreciate what you and Stephen do. This blog is invaluable. But I do hope you'll grow to be as zealous in evaluating your peers and colleagues as you are in evaluating outsiders.

Unfortunately, too few of our colleagues participate in public debate, much less the blogosphere.

I agree with Steve... I usually teach Intermediate macro and I have the same problem... I like Makiw´s text book and Krugman and Obstfeld, but still is not enough. Fortunately there are some interesting papers from european economists that adressed the open issues in a better way... I think México has more similarities with Canada than with the USA in that respect...

But the main point is that blogging can be very useful if you really want to communicate something even to non economists... For the last 7 years I have been writing an op-ed at a mexican national newspaper, and really, blogging has been more intensive...


Its alive!! Great work lads. I must confess that blogs have reignited my amateur interest in economics...er... political economics. I've even considered buying some course time 'ere in guvmint town (Ottawa).

While Mr. Rowe has submitted a fine piece on the upside of blogging, I suspect that he glosses over its limitations. Reconsider the following:
"...you don't get the risk of a little clique of like-minded people all refereeing each others' work, and approving it because it confirms their views and cites their own work favourably."

Confirmation bias is rampant on planet Blog (!). Whether or not it is better or worse than party papers, ad-and-sub-funded media, or professional/academic publications, I can't say for sure. But looking at the comments on some of my favourite sites (eg Nakedcapitalism), I can't help but feel apprehensive.

Dan Gardner, the Ottawa Shitizen writer who happens to love this site, is terribly afraid that Blogs are worse. When you consider the necessity to fund info-gathering/investigation, blogging looks a little scary. See Gardner: http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/katzenjammer/default.aspx

More to the point of this thread, I'm not overly confident that fine academic blogs such as WCI can reach a broad, non-academic audience much more than the stodgy journals.

(oh boy. its 400 and im fueled up like a Carleton frat boy... My bladder!)


Just in case you didn’t see it, here is a truly remarkable piece by Willem Buiter entitled:

“Clarification on why I write this blog”.


It’s remarkable for a few reasons, including the following statement:

“I write this blog for me, not for my readers. Writing things down is the only way for me to communicate effectively with myself about complex issues.”

Everything else for him flows from that.

It’s also remarkable because the man of steel proves he actually has a sense of humour:

“PS Some people say I’m arrogant. No idea where they get that notion.”

Dang, there he is again (JKH), putting his finger on it: writing, esp in response to a fresh reply, is a way of getting clear about that sometimes muddy puddle.
Something like an electronic symposium without the usual constraints of speaking in order and with prepared, rather formal, notes...those elements of the original dialog that have no respect for correct spellin and punctuation.
It can be a wonderful addiction.


Yes, some of "scholastic trimmings" in academic journal articles are pedantic, boring and unnecessary.

But often a formal model and careful econometrics is necessary to go from intuition ("I think this is what's going on") to something closer to proof ("I have really good evidence that this is what's going on").

So I'd like to see you use blogging to spark your research - take the best of the ideas generated in the blogosphere and see if they really stand up to sustained analysis. And use your research findings to inform your blog.

If that doesn't work, are there better ways to mesh blogging and teaching?

Would it be possible to organize this blog so that it would be easier to link the postings into a standard macro course? Or have a page somewhere on the blog that does this? And then distribute this information at the CEA meetings or the macro study group? (Write a page describing WCI, print out a bunch of copies, and stick them in a pile by the coffee machine). (b.t.w., did you see that WCI is plugged on economics.ca - last item?).

I've often thought it would be really great to have a public finance blog where I could connect things in the news to my public finance courses. Too much work, though.

Other models? The website postsecrets (if you have a daughter with piercings, ask her about it) has generated lots of money by taking the best of their blogs and publishing them in book form. Freakonomics blurs the boundaries between newspaper article/popular book/blog and now textbook.

But Nick's blog raises another question - so - this is the most that he's thought about economics since graduate school. Why isn't Nick having these conversations at seminars or around the department? Is this something specific to Carleton or a change in academia more generally? Or is it only on the internet that you can find a critical mass of like-minded people and a real community?

It seems to me that blogging is a lot like conversations over coffee with colleagues, but easier. It can be asynchronous, involved people who are geographically disparate, and allows time for thought before formulating responses. Blogging really is a great medium when used properly.

Whatever justifies slacking off.

I like blogs because they are free and journals often aren't. FWIW my favourite post of yours is the recent demarcation of the difference between the Euro and Anglo-Saxon forms of banking. I wasn't even aware there was an alternative to fractional reserve banking. I'm going to study the other model over the next few days in the hopes in might yield a sustainable way to operate some derivative activites that have maimed global finance (excepting Canadian corporations, to date).

...on the subject of Canadian econmics meme content in the world:
To my knowledge, we have the only finance companies that haven't been crippled. Why? The CBC lady from Dragon's Den says it is a conservative investment culture. But surely other Business Schools and regulators are even more conservative, yet have been wrecked. Obviously the decisions made by P.Martin and not to merge banks (and deregulate I assume) was huge. I read on an Auzzie newspaper blog they haven't yet merged their banks either, and I assume they are still hit.
Whatever the reason, when it is uncovered, we have CIDA and other agencies dedicated to bringing progress to the world; perhaps it is time to form an agency dedicated to exporting "Canadian bank-run immunity", at least to our future trading partners.

It seems to me that blogging is a lot like conversations over coffee with colleagues, but easier. It can be asynchronous, involved people who are geographically disparate, and allows time for thought before formulating responses.

I was going to try to say something like this, but Andrew F did it in just two sentences. So instead I'll say "What he said."

Thanks for the comments!

I'm going to feed off Andrew F's comment:
"It seems to me that blogging is a lot like conversations over coffee with colleagues, but easier. It can be asynchronous, involved people who are geographically disparate, and allows time for thought before formulating responses."

"geographically disparate" certainly, as Alejandro's comment from Mexico demonstrates. What other chance would I have had to hear from someone in Mexico who has had a very similar experience as I have?

But also disparate is discipline and work, as again the comments here demonstrate. Academic economists, private-sector economists, non-economists.

And it's a conversation that anyone can join in, or listen in, unlike the conversation with colleagues over coffee.

And there's a published record. You can refer back to earlier conversations.

Frances' improving suggestion to try to mesh blogging into standard research would be good if it could be done. My guess is that it will happen, over time, but I can't yet see the exact process.

But in response to her question: "Why isn't Nick having these conversations at seminars or around the department?". I can think up an idea for a blog post any time, and "present a seminar" immediately. And the audience for my seminar doesn't have to be present at the same time in the same place. It's as if anyone who might be interested in my seminar could do instant time and space travel into my home office.

Frances' improving suggestion to try to mesh blogging into standard research would be good if it could be done.

There are places that try to do this: VoxEU is probably the best. But you'd have to be an exceptionally productive researcher to be able to run a blog driven by one's own research - and such people probably don't have the time to spare to run a blog.

"Equally important is nurturing their enthusiasm for economics so they learn it themselves."

Nick, I am former student of yours in econ 1000 and I could not agree more with this statement. Too often all we learn is the model in class, midterm, final and that's it. I want to look at where the rubber hits the road. I've been following this blog for a bit now and I've gotten hooked into reading this, Mankiw's and Krugman's blog. For a class I am in we had to read Fama and Cochrane's view on the Obama fiscal package and contrast it with DeLong's and Krugman (boy do these guys have an axe to grind with each other). Then we had to use these arguments in looking at the Harper Government's stimulus. An assignment that was actually intellectually engaging.

Keep on blogging! Encourage students to read your blog and post comments. Generate discussion. It makes the learning experience so much more enjoyable. Students want to learn about the financial crisis but no one wants to be that person in class who asks the tangental question to keep everyone in class those extra few minutes as the clock approaches the five minutes to the hour mark.
Don't even need to waste your time fiddling with a WebCt discussion board, you've got this here.

Thanks Mark!

"For a class I am in we had to read Fama and Cochrane's view on the Obama fiscal package and contrast it with DeLong's and Krugman (boy do these guys have an axe to grind with each other). Then we had to use these arguments in looking at the Harper Government's stimulus. An assignment that was actually intellectually engaging."

Wow! Great assignment! What (whose) class was that?

Did you see my post on that issue? http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2009/01/loanable-funds-and-liquidity-preference-delong-vs-fama.html

As merely a concerned citizen, I applaud your efforts and those of other academics and experts in economics and finance. The blogosphere, for me, is a translation layer from Newspeak to English -- Orwell would be proud to see experts on blogs such as this taking excerpts from articles in the MSM and converting the rhetoric and deception into plain English we can all understand (perhaps with a bit of effort!).

I lied. There are at least two developed nations with stable banks. Oi Oi Oi. Two role models to learn from.

It's being done in 4902, this term.

I did read that particular post when I looked at all the "fiscal policy" category posts, courtesy of the search function on the right hand column. While I do understand the Fama/Cochrane vs. DeLong/Krugman argument, the argument has become so highly politicized that it's hard to cut through everything to get to the real issues. I do find it highly entertaining and intriguing how they all they go back and forth using their blogs to debate the ideas; certainly much quicker than using journal articles to argue this out. Although I must say I was hoping Cochrane would put up a stronger defence of his arguments on DeLong's blog instead of the short reply he posted to DeLong's pro-stimulus rebuttal to Cochrane's original piece.

Economics is like plumbing in the sense that the average person only becomes interested in economomics when somethings goes very wrong.

I grew up in the 70's during the energy crisis and stagflation, so did a BA in economics instead of engineering, to my parent's dismay. As the economy improved I discovered I didn't want to be an economist so did a B.Ing. which is why I'm a civil engineer now.

The past year I've re-discovered an interest in economics, which is why I enjoy reading this blog (and occasionnaly blurting out some of my stupid ideas).

Also, most American and European blogs are so doom and gloom, yet things don't seem to be so bad in Quebec where I live. Maybe it's because economic depression is a natural state of affairs in this province, and things are still much better than they were for 25 years from 1976 to 2000. This blog will hopefully answer the question whether I'm living in a fool's paradise, or is Quebec really going to be less affected by this crisis?

Re Phillip Huggan: Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie! (though the chant's the wrong way round.)

But you might want to check out how Macquarie Bank is doing. I think not so well.

Phillip and christine: Aha! I was trying to decipher the "Oi, Oi. Oi" It has slightly different connotations to an old Brit like me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oi!
Australia, eh? Canadians should spend more time watching Australia, and comparing Canada to Australia.

Alex: Well, Stephen's a Quebecker, and so am I (except I work in Ontario), so we ought to be able to say something about the Quebec economy and the crisis. First thing I would say is that there was not much of a house price bubble in Quebec, so I don't think you are going to see as big a decline in house prices. Apart from that, I can't think of much other difference from the rest of Canada.

Thanks Alessandra!

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