Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Debating Economics - What to Read if you Expect Intellectual Rigor

Mainstream US media is a vacuous echo chamber where conventional wisdom is endlessly repeated with a sprinkling of semi-relevant insider quotes and anecdotes to provide a veneer of credibility. Reading the popular press on economic and financial matters is a particularly frustrating experience. The more specialized a field the greater the propensity of journalists to rely on a few easy to reach sources of authority and pass half-digested opinion on to readers as information. To expect intellectually rigorous original thinking from economic journalists seems to be asking too much.

The global economy in general and the U.S. economy in particular is experiencing economic conditions unlike any other since the Great Depression. With the incoming Obama administration fully cognizant of the scale of the problem the urgent debate in the United States right now is focused on the best means to extract the economy out of its current morass. The nature of the problems and the debate about the potential approaches to ameliorate these problems can be staggeringly complex and given that we are in uncharted economic waters it is difficult to get a concise, consistent and fact-based discussion of the issues.

Most people are starved for time so they have to rely on a few easily accessible news sources to get the relevant facts. They will default to The New York Times (WSJ, FT etc.) or if they have a more serious appetite they will read The Economist. These are of course generally good sources but the richness and the quality of the debate on the internet can no longer be surpassed.

If you are not resistant to some minor wonkishness I would recommend two blogs for their excellent information content and relevant discussion of economic issues. Intelligently arguing a traditionally Keynesian view for an aggressively interventionist government role, informed by knowledge of depression-era economics and the Japanese "lost decade", is Krugman's popular blog "Conscience of a Liberal". Krugman does an excellent job of educating and informing while at the same time cutting through the fog of popular coverage. For an intelligent counter view, skeptical of government's capacity and ability to cure the economy's ills is Greg Mankiw's blog. Mankiw is a professor at Harvard and was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Bush (do not write him off because of that). He was the youngest tenured professor of economics in Harvard's history (beating Larry Summers' prior record) and is an intellectual leading light on the conservative scene. However, the drawback of Mankiw's blog is that is fairly terse and not pedagogical enough when compared to Krugman. If you want to explore even more I would recommend the more frequently updated blog by Brad Delong (Berkeley) and the relatively new blog on Finance topics by the illustrious Eugene Fama and Ken French (U. Chicago).

1 comment:

Faisal Irfan Mian said...

and no one interested in matters economic can do without looking at the "freakonomics" blog...