The Spectacle Blog

Comparative Advantage in Blogging

By on 3.4.09 | 3:24PM

The Economist notices that the George Mason University Economics Department's commitment to blogging has generated a Tim Tebow effect, dragging the rest of the school along with them towards greater prominence.

Of course it seems like trading research papers for blogging is a risky strategy for boosting rankings and prestige. It is unclear whether economics departments in general will value prolific commentary as much as published research. What is clear, though, is that not only does George Mason have a comparative advantage in blogging, but also that it's to everyone's advantage to have these economists sharing their thoughts in an approachable format.

In fact, I'm almost tempted to say that I've learned more reading Marginal Revolution, Econlog, Cafe Hayek, and Overcoming Bias than I did getting a degree in economics from a top-20 university. By maintaining these blogs GMU economists have raised the level of discourse with non-economists from basically zero. The GMU economists are not the only economics bloggers, obviously, and they trade arguments and observations with economists from other schools. Before blogs, this running debate and commentary simply was not available to anyone who didn't read the very narrow and officiated arguments in scholarly journals.

An economic historian once mentioned to me that half of all published economic research articles go uncited (except for by their own authors). Which do you think is more valuable: a medium that's one-half totally ignored, or a medium that attracts millions to read and comment every single day? I'll leave you to answer that one but as for me I wouldn't want to be limited to Tyler Cowen's thoughts just a few times a year.

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