Thursday, December 19, 2019

Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

The retirement of Mark Thoma, whose Economists View has been praised on his retirement with having transformed the econoblogosphere back in the mid- noughties by linking regularly, daily in his heyday, to other blogs, including this one. Thanks to him when the big crash happened, there was a wide open debate across levels and schools of thought in economics about what was going down. 

But for some time now, Mark has been reducing his activity on his blog, with it stopping being the reliable every day link to other blogs some time ago.  I fear that this combined with his retirement may be a signal of the decline, if not the outright death yet, of the econoblogosphere, at least as an important intellectual and policy force.

The obvious new competitor has been Twitter, which I confess I still resist.  It is ubiquitous, but also seriously shaallow for serious issues.  I recognize its usefulness for covering immediate events such as disasters or revolutoins or strikes, etc.  But it is vacuous for any serious discussions.  But its appeal and attraction have simply grown, with the rise of use by Trump, with his 68 million followers and doinog over 100 per day has substantially led to this shift.  We here are in a declining market.

At a personal level it seemed to me the peak may have been even before  Mark Thoma showed up. I was involved with the predecessor to this blog, Maxspeak. Back then I regularly would get up to 70 cmmentss on posts I mase, and in my view, without draggging through details, the most influential in real terms posts I have ever put up in the econoblogsphere date to that time.  We had some major issues we were important on against established views in both parties, with Social Security an espeially important one, something tha carried over when Econospeak started with its closely affiliate Angry Bear blog.

Anyway, as regular readers probably notice, the only times we get the kinds of comment numbers I used to get regularly on Maxspeak ar when somebody like our semi-regular visitor, Egmont, shows up. But even he recently seems to appear less frequently.  Our audience seems to be shrinking, and as near as I can tell is largely of an older age: ok boomer!

Which brings me to the matter of Mark Thoma's retirement.  So, there is no question that I have huge respect him and the role he has played. I fear that this is not a matter of him now devoting more time to his blog in retirement, but a sign that he will be withdrawing more generally from public activity for whatever reason, various speculations floating around on that, which I shall not comment on in any detail.  But if he is having problems due to health or whatever, I definitely wish him the best.

In any case, I fear he is disappearing from the econoblogosphere. This raises the question of who is his successor, however reduced.  I propose that it is Menzie  Chinn ar Econbrowser, now mostly silently backed up by his senior co-blogger, Jim Hamilton.  That blog now seems to host some of the more intelligent debates between people of different views.

Its most serious rival may well be Marginal Revolution, run by the polymathic Tyler Cowen, who posts on matters beyond  economics.  He and Menzie clearly have different ideologies, with Mennzie, who briefl served on the CEA staff of George W.. Bush, more of an establishment center left type, with his co-blogger somewhat more to the right, although long eschewing any ideological or political stance except  occasionally very vaguely.

OToH, Tyler identifies himself as a libertarian, but is so often complicating his views that many of his commenters regularly complain about his supposed statist deviations.  But there also people of different ideologies and methodologies appear and acstually debate to some degree.

It is kind of a close call. MR gets more attention, and Tyler covers a wider array of topics, while getting more and more into interviewing major public intlllectuals.  But while some of them have disappeared, he has perhaps more trollish extremists spouting racist and xenophobic and wild conspiracy yveiws. Unlike Menzie (or  Jim) he rarely enters into the discussions he sets off, with an occasional exception.

OTOH, Menzie's  posts are narrower, often reflecting his specialty of  time-series analysis of international economic relations, which holds off some of the worst trollish crazies. But theee regular commentators who defend t=Trump and his policies, which Menzie  is often criticizing.  Menzie is more likely to comment on the ongoing debatres, although usually on fairly technical matters regarding econometric methodology or data. But he (and Jim) tolerate broader debates, and the quality of those debates cross the current divide may be more serious than what goes on at MR, with its large number of loonny bin conspiracy theorists.

These seem to me now to be the most serious successors to Economists View in the wake of Mark Thoma's rerirement. Neither provides the broad linking he did, but they are both open to broad debate across party and ideological lines, which goes on in each of them.  I wish both all the brst.

Barkley Rosser


Unknown said...

I agree that there is a lamentable decline in econblogging. In this field, and in other areas, there is a form of Gresham’s law at work where the crazies drive out people who are interested in ideas including ideas that differ. This results in echo chambers with small groups vying to be the loudest affirmers of the orthodoxy. The comment section of my local newspaper is full of bitter invective often regarding some triviality. I blame anonymity.

Not Trampis said...


It is Mark's duty to continue his blogging now he is retired. What else will he do in retirement.

As for Menzie V Tyler I agree on both. Both should continue on so we can enjoy both blogs.

I would edit some of Menzie's commenters.
Yes i am looking at you PGL as one of them

2slugbaits said...

Your post reads like an obituary. Sadly, it's all too accurate. As you say, part of the problem is Twitter. Twitter encourages rapid fire quips at the expense of thoughtful and coherent arguments. But I suspect we'd be seeing the same decline in the econ blogosphere even if Mephistopheles never invented Twitter. If you want proof, just visit any coffee shop near a college campus. I sound like an old man yelling at the kids to get off the lawn, but back in my day if you walked into a coffee shop you'd hear intense and extended arguments about the Frankfurt School versus the Chicago School; Hannah Arendt versus Leo Strauss; John Rawls versus Robert Nozick; Herbert Marcuse versus Norman O. Brown; Paul Samuelson & James Tobin versus Milton Friedman & Robert Lucas. Today you see atomized students locked onto their iPhones checking bargains for shoes and how many likes they got on their pictures from spring break. Okay, I'll turn off the old man rant.

There are some good econ blogs out there. I like Dietrich Vollrath's blog on Solow style growth models. I also like Tim Taylor's blog. And Chris Dillow. And Simon Wren-Lewis. But most of them either prohibit comments or post very rarely. Wren-Lewis's posts have lately focused on the Brexit folly, which is understandable but of limited interest for US readers.

One thing I've noticed is that there is often a yawning gap between the technical expertise of some commenters (usually leaning left) and the MAGA hat wearing types (e.g., CoRev, sammy, Ed Hanson, etc.) over at Menzie's place. They simply don't have the academic chops to keep up and as a result they feel disrespected. No laymen would comment on a blog about quantum mechanics or neurology if they weren't academically credentialed; but when it comes to economics and politics every Tom, Dick and Harry believes his comment is as valid as anyone else's. This is what happens when blog owners try to make economics understandable to the non-professional. Blog owners like Menzie and Mark Thoma and Tyler mean well, but one of the unintended consequences is that you get a bunch of folks who feel they understand economics without having to go to the effort of actually reading and studying economics. said...

On Mark Thoma, I have had some private communications with him. He is in good health. He is in a new relationship and is moving to San Diego. He also said that he is "burned out." He has spent a lot of time and effort on his blog, and it has done him in, which is too bad. He may do some blogging in the future, but he is going to take a break and will probably not go back to doing what he was.

This is a loss, but I told him that everyboddy in the econoblogosphere respects and appreciates him and his efforts and wishes him the best.

kevin quinn said...

Barkley: on macro at least, we still have the outstanding Nick Rowe, where Nick in effect conducts a seminar with his responses to generally very high-level comments. And don't forget Brad Delong, who is as polymathic as Tyler.

But Mark's blog was amazing and nothing will really fill that hole. said...

Points well taken, Kevin, although while Brad is very smart and widely knowledgeable, I do not think he is quite as polymathic as Tyler.