Category Archives: Writing

Part of this Balanced Breakfast

I think a lot about how much and what I read. I am one of the readers Tyler Cowen references in his new book Create Your Own Economy.My primary source of information is the blogosphere. The blogs I read typically have posts including one or more links to other blogs or “hard” news sources. I follow various chains until I either lose interest or run out of time. I read about Tyler’s book on his blog, Marginal Revolution, as well as on Ben Casnocha’s blog. I have not, however, read the book. I read Ben’s excellent essay on the book, but I’m not sure I’ll take the time to read the book itself for a number of reasons. Mainly, I think in some ways it would further distort my informational diet. I already read Tyler’s blog everyday. Would reading his book really be optimal compared to other books by other authors? Probably, if only because it might provide insight (or at least a justification) for my current informational diet.

I would certainly enjoy having a response to the little intellectual dietician inside me who seems to constantly scream, “Eat more vegetables (books) and less sweets (blogs)! Even the nuts and whole grains you purchase (the Economist and the Atlantic) are more healthy than blogs!” I usually reply, “You’re right, but with Madmen, movies, friends, my girlfriend, work, soccer, golf, and socializing I just don’t have time to read more than one or two books per month.” That doesn’t do a great job of shutting him up.

Starting graduate school later this month will temporarily put this debate to rest, in any case.

Rhetoric and Reception

Anyone who regularly reads newspaper columnists or political economic blogs has read Paul Krugman. In his New York Times column he takes complex issues and presents them in a manner laymen can understand, albeit from an unabashedly liberal perspective. While Krugman is no doubt an excellent economist, his popularity stems from his brilliance as an essayist.  In particular, he commonly employs a rhetorical method that casts participants in a debate as good or evil, questioning motives and sincerity. His opponents, Greg Mankiw in particular, attempt to “wear the mantle of civil discourse” as a commenter on Brad DeLong’s blog put it.  But do most people appreciate such (superficial?) even-handedness? Probably not.

Cases can be made for an individual’s bias in any direction, so why not abandon wishy-washy, leave all options open economist-speak? Krugman mixes technical analysis with passion, conviction, suspicion, and over-confidence, advancing his arguments beyond what is warranted by their intellectual merit alone. He often argues more like a lawyer than an economist. Certainly he does not have a monopoly on such tactics as other economists and commenters frequently attempt to use the same methods. It’s just that Krugman, for better or worse, seems to have mastered the trade.

Somewhat tangentially, see this paper by Daniel Klein and Harika Barlett for an analysis of Krugman’s evolution as a columnist.