Thursday, April 5, 2012

In the Blogosphere, Econ Looks Macro


I’m mainly a microeconomist.  There are lots of folks like me.  I don’t know the percentages, but surely microeconomists make up a large proportion of the global econ profession.  Lots of important ideas and empirical discoveries are flowing through the micro pipeline all the time.

Yet if you didn’t know anything else about economics other than what you read in the blogosphere, you’d think that most economists were on the macro side, that the main schools of thought in macro determine how we are sorted intellectually, that the real-world importance of economics is mainly about economic growth, employment, inflation, etc., and that macro is where the new ideas are.

How come?  Is it because the financial crisis and its global consequences, like the bitter politics of fiscal budgets, are currently at center stage?  Or because the news cycle in macro is so much faster, with new data points popping up every day?  Or is it because the ideological implications of macroeconomic disputes are more apparent than most micro dustups?  Or because key players, like Mark Thoma (who should wear a headband saying “I am a public good”) and Paul Krugman, are mainly macro?

Actually, there are huge things happening on the micro side of the aisle.  Climate change remains one of the world’s fundamental challenges, the battle against mass poverty has taken a micro-ish turn, and a slow-mo intellectual drama of vast significance is taking place in welfare economics—it’s crumbling under the weight of behavioral econ and related threats.  Applied micro is largely on autopilot, so theoretical developments are mostly out of view, but the whole idea of the blogosphere is that everything is potentially in view.

How do we get to where millions of online readers feel the day is not complete without a dose of microeconomic controversy, or that their vocabulary is missing something if it doesn’t include network externalities and subgame perfection?

5 comments:

Noah Smith said...

1. Macro has a lot bigger ramifications for people's lives (and hence for policy) than micro. If the govt. makes macro mistakes, people lose their jobs.

2. Macro is more controversial. People like controversy for several reasons, including A) that it's fun, and B) that disagreement among experts allows laypeople to feel like they have something more to contribute. Notice that the micro that gets discussed on blogs is usually something controversial like tax policy or education policy. On the science blogs, "does God exist" posts get orders of magnitude more hits than "latest results from the Large Hadron Collider" posts.

3. You're forgetting finance blogs, which have a lot of micro aspects, and which get far more hits than pure econ blogs, for obvious reasons.

Nathan Tankus said...

This is a good post. I think microeconomics is needed much more (especially since "micro founded" models dominate macroeconomics). One nitpick though, Climate change is microeconomics? It seems more like a environmental (biophysical?) international economics to me (or maybe international mesoeconomics).

ARIJIT BANIK said...

Microfoundations of macroeconomics has set back economics to the Dark Ages and the "all economics is microeconomic" meme is constantly used by those purporting to economics as truth - which is patently false.

There needs to be a sincere re-thinking of this artificial construct given the advances in computing power available to us and the obcious defecienies in such thinking that go beyond the obvious fallacy of composition.

While Finance is heavily micro influenced, financial markets care about macro --even if no market is really "free."

Jennifer Imazeki said...

I completely disagree with with the earlier comment that "Macro has a lot bigger ramifications for people's lives (and hence for policy) than micro" - a whole lot of policy comes down to micro but macro is just a lot more visible to non-economists. As for why macro dominates the econ blogosphere, I think part of it is that microeconomists are so much more specialized, so the conversations are harder to get going. Anyone who does anything macro (and any non-economist who pays attention to current events) seems to feel qualified to talk about "the economy" but as a public and labor economist, I would probably hesitate to comment on an environmental economics blog or an IO blog.

Michael said...

"I don’t know the percentages, but surely microeconomists make up a large proportion of the global econ profession."

I looked the "productivity" rankings used to assemble a list of the top economics departments here:

http://econphd.econwiki.com/rankings.htm

I compared the top 20 departments based on all publications and the number of publications for the Macro sub-discipline. Macro is about 14 percent of the total. But this overstates. The ranks include public finance in the macro sub-discipline. When public finance removed, the average is 12.5 percent.

....................... All pubs ...Macro ....... %
Harvard U ................ 210.7 ... 30.5 ... 0.144
U Chicago ................ 159.3 ... 16.7 ... 0.104
MIT ...................... 136.8 ... 20.3 ... 0.148
UC - Berkeley ............ 134.9 ... 20.7 ... 0.153
Princeton U .............. 118.3 ... 23.8 ... 0.201
Stanford U ............... 114.3 ... 14.9 ... 0.130
Northwestern U ........... 112.9 ... 13.4 ... 0.118
U Pennsylvania ........... 110.9 ... 21.8 ... 0.196
Yale U ................... 108.9 .... 7.3 ... 0.067
New York U (NYU) ......... 105.1 ... 21.3 ... 0.202
UCLA ...................... 94.9 ... 15.6 ... 0.164
LSE ....................... 94.9 ... 13.4 ... 0.141
Columbia U ............... 93.2 ... 17.7 ... 0.189
U Wisc - Madison .......... 69.5 .... 8.4 ... 0.120
Cornell U ................. 68.6 .... 9.9 ... 0.144
U Mich - Ann Arbor ........ 68.0 .... 7.7 ... 0.113
U Maryland - College Park . 67.4 .... 7.1 ... 0.105
U Toulouse I .............. 65.3 .... 5.7 ... 0.087
U Texas - Austin .......... 62.1 ... 13.2 ... 0.212
U British Columbia ........ 61.6 .... 7.4 ... 0.120
TOTAL ................... 2057.6 .. 296.8 ... 0.144