It’s been a little while since I last posted…theoretically, a good New Year’s resolution would be to start posting more, but I’ll have to see if time allows. I was immediately drawn, though, to this story from the latest issue of the Economist: “Heterodox Economics: Marginal Revolutionaries.” The author focuses in particular on two schools of thought- market monetarism and neo-chartalism, and on two of their champions- Scott Sumner and Warren Mosler, respectively, who inparticular have gained mainstream currency.
The article goes somewhat in-depth into the ideas of each school, but I think what is most relevant is the process by which these bloggers have risen to prominence, and what it means:
On February 25th, [Sumner] earned a link from Tyler Cowen, a professor at George Mason University whose “Marginal Revolution” blog is widely respected. And one month after he started Mr Krugman devoted a short post to rebuffing him.
To be noticed by Mr Krugman is a big thing for a blogger; all the current heterodoxies court such attention, with neo-chartalists churning up his comment threads and Austrians challenging him to set-piece debates. The more Mr Krugman wrestles with them, the more attention they garner—a correlation that has made him wary. “I’ll link to any work I find illuminating, whoever it’s from,” he writes. “I’ll link to work I think is deeply wrong only if it comes from someone who already has a following.” Otherwise, “why give him a platform?”
Mr Sumner’s blog not only revealed his market monetarism to the world at large (“I cannot go anywhere in the world of economics…without hearing his name,” says Mr Cowen). It also drew together like-minded economists, many of them at small schools some distance from the centre of the economic universe, who did not realise there were other people thinking the same way they did. They had no institutional home, no critical mass. The blogs provided one. Lars Christensen, an economist at a Danish bank who came up with the name “market monetarism”, says it is the first economic school of thought to be born in the blogosphere, with post, counter-post and comment threads replacing the intramural exchanges of more established venues.
Indeed, much of the sociology of the discipline has been driven by a gatekeeper model, in which the only way to be heard is to fit into the mainstream enough to get published. Blogging creates a different set of incentives, because people who read blogs seem to value heterodox more in and of itself, and little value is placed on conformity. It is not a perfect meritocracy- the best and brightest ideas might still be ignored if they are too radical. However, one hopes that the existence of economics blogs is chipping away at the intellectual narrowness of the discipline.
Over time, ideas from yet more radical schools of thought, like neo-Marxism or post-Keynesianism, may be deemed worthy of heavy consideration and rebuttal from the likes of Krugman or Mankiw. However, for that to happen, everyone needs to be speaking the same language. I imagine that Mosler and Sumner have had a somewhat easier time because their ideas more easily fit onto the map of economic discourse, particularly because their ideas fit well into a financial discourse. Start talking about alienation or surplus value, though, and it may be a different story.