Why I Write

Link to the essay on Pieria–which has an ever-expanding list of links essays by other economics bloggers in the “Why I Write” series

On his Pieria website, Tomas Hirst has put together a series in which each Pieria experts answers the question “Why Do You Write?” Here is Tomas’s introduction:

In this series we aim to shed light on the motivations, inspirations and writing processes of some of the leading financial bloggers. Here, Miles Kimball, Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan and author of Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal, explains why he writes.

Tomas did a masterful job of posing questions and editing the email responses I sent him into this essay, which first appeared on Pieria on July 17, 2013.

“A year ago, I started a blog, “Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal” out of a mixture of raw ambition, desire for self-expression, duty, and hope. Sometimes duty keeps me up late at night, but it is raw ambition that makes me wake up too early in the morning so that I slip further and further behind in my sleep.”

The quote above come from my post “So You Want to Save the World”, which is about ethics for bloggers, as are my series of John Stuart Mill quotations (easy to find in my Religion, Humanities and Science sub-blog) focusing on taking alternative views seriously (even if they are very wrong – for reasons JS Mill lays out carefully – and even more if they just might be right). Some of the more recent John Stuart Mill quotations also express why I think blogs are so important in the media landscape. 

Blogs (and Twitter) allow real discussion and debate about alternative views for the following reasons: 

  1. Blogs are one place that progressives and conservatives actually interact and wrestle with each other’s arguments.
  2. Blogs and Twitter and comments point out alternative perspectives one wouldn’t have thought of.
  3. The back-and-forth on blogs, Twitter and comments helps one clarify one’s own thinking.

Finally, in the HuffPost Live segment that I did with Umair Haque and others I give a view of blogs as the place people can really get the real deal that is not dumbed down.  One thing I mention is that breaking things down into the blog format of relatively short posts can give much more impact to an argument and make it much more understandable than if one expected someone to have the patience to sit down and read something very long and understand it. Even if I do some posts that are long, they alternate with shorter ones on the same topics.

One thing that may be a serious mistake is that I find myself wanting to resist anything like Krugman’s labeling the level of wonkishness on his posts. It is unrealistic, perhaps, but I hope people try the harder posts without expecting too much of themselves, and then get something from those posts even if they don’t fully understand them. Some of what is behind my attitude on this can be seen in today’s post on Deliberate Practice. Without trying to understand things that are a bit hard, how can people get smarter? If I have a range of different difficulties for posts, hopefully people can read both the ones that are easy for them and the ones that are a bit difficult, and let themselves off the hook for the ones that are over-the-top difficult. I am glad for the discipline of writing some of my pieces for a more general audience in Quartz. Although those columns are toned down relative to some of the posts on my blog, I am proud that they push the boundaries on difficulty level in pieces intended for a popular audience. I hope that even people who did not understand everything in the two columns I wrote with Yichuan Wang on what we found in the Reinhart and Rogoff dataset got a sense for what it means to be careful in analyzing data.

“I think I have a niche of daring to do relatively difficult posts. In addition to hoping that people will stretch, that accords with this strategy” - (from A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side Liberal)

My primary strategy for making the world a better place is not to influence politics in the short run, but to make my case on the merits for each issue to the cohort of young economists who will collectively have such a big influence on policy in decades to come, and to the economists who now staff government agencies (including the Federal Reserve System).

Collectively, I believe that economists are a group that can move the world. It it is not altogether Quixotic to hope to affect the ideas that will animate thinking of the rising generation of economists. And, as a bonus, many others will enjoy hearing, and may be affected by, arguments directed at that group.

On the future of the economics blogosphere

The economics blogosphere is already vibrant, brimming with intellectual energy. The obvious next phase of its development is for more and more of the most academically respected economists to engage in blogging as the respectability of blogging grows in a virtuous cycle. Historically, the interesting thing is that this will constitute a full-scale revival of the literary economics that prevailed before the mathematization of economics in the early 20th century–this time, alongside mathematized economics. That emerging two-barrel, balanced approach to economics through both math and accessible writing in counterpoint is an important development that will make economics both more powerful at getting to the truth and more powerful as a social force.

Note: In the comments below, Isomorphisms mentions my idiosyncratic “Links I am Thinking About” aggregator blog. I have a link to it on my sidebar. I think many of my readers might find it of some interest.