Paul Krugman blogs on an old theme, how the econoblogosphere has displaced journals and formal academic research as the focal point for debate. Old formal credentials like being a Professor at a reputable university, or holding a top job at a policy institution don’t count in the new, open and democratic discourse about economics.
But are things really so different? My sense is that the econoblogosphere hasn’t intruded on the academic or policy debates so much, as growing the space for debate previously taken by the op-ed and letters pages of the quality press. Funding for academic activity in economics departments (teaching, research, data collection, experiments, conferences) is alive and well, despite the endowments for some of the rich institutions taking a hit. Academics mostly talk to each other about their work in progress, and periodically deign to present their stuff to policymakers, when the latter are prepared to fly them out to somewhere nice to do it. And those who either never did formal research, or who have given up on it, do what they always did, which is write for this space that used to be op-ed columns, but now includes blogs. Policymakers do what they always did, which is get their minions to digest formal research for them and to draft speeches for them, and to deliver them, having no use for the discipline of submitting themselves to refereed journals, (not now, and not ever before).
Another way of looking at it is who gets the pecuniary rewards from economics. Positions at universities go to those with publications. Blogs count for nothing (and are possibly even regarded as a kind of hard-stuff-avoidance-behaviour). Positions at policy institutions go to the same kind of people that they always used to: with experience in academia, other policy institutions, finance or business. Once again, blogs don’t count for much. The most successful blogs that reap monetary rewards, those syndicated to the (old established) newspaper outlets, are those authored by those who earned their feathers in the traditional econ professions, not blogs. So far, I haven’t earned a cent from mine!
I don’t see any harm in this continuity. I see formal academic research as vital to progressing debates about how the economy works, and what policy should do. It’s not useful for everyone to be involved in this. And it’s hard to contribute or follow it if you haven’t given up years to invest in the tools used. So it’s natural that that goes on in working paper series, conferences and journals, and not blogs. If you share my world view, the natural function of the econoblogosphere is to sift through the outputs of this activity, not to supplant it. Of course, many don’t. Some see formal academic research as blinkered, misguided, shackled by the politics of getting on in academia. If it were, we should eventually see some of the indicators above turning: bloggers earning lots of money, getting top policy jobs, displacing lecturers at reputable universities.