Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Environmental and Urban Economics Blog is One Year Old!

I now no longer remember my feeling of excitement when I posted my first blog entry. If you had told me in August 2005 that in August 2006 that I would still be blogging away, I would have been surprised.

Blogs are like new products from small firms. When they start out there is a lot of uncertainty about whether they will be successful and the failure rate should be high. Perhaps some blogs are implicitly subsidized by an author’s low value of time? I haven’t seen any blog entries on hazard models on blog failure.

One has to be honest about one’s self. The NFL coach of the Patriots always says “You are what you are”. This blog is not a smash success relative to others such as Delong or Mankiw or “Super Freak” blog. Other blogs have done a better job focusing like a laser on a key public policy issue such as Jim Hamilton’s blog and oil price dynamics.

I can comfort myself that I have intentionally chosen to focus on my narrow research niche; “environmental and urban economics”. Back in August 2005, I knew that my Green Cities book would be published in late 2006. The entrepreneur in me wanted to spread the word that I was an interesting guy with clever ideas. From the private e-mail I receive from people, I can tell that I’ve achieved this modest goal.

Once my book is published in late August 2006, this blog will evolve into more of a diary discussing debates and e-mails I have received about the book. For example, I have already written a short piece for London’s Policy Exchange based on this book. In addition, I’m getting ready to go to Beijing in October to discuss excerpts of the book with Chinese Policy Officials. Once I move to UCLA in January 2007, this blog will also focus more on California issues.

As I reflect on my blog’s birthday, I can’t resist offering a couple of observations about economics blogs;

1. Would the average quality of blogs be higher if posters could not “cut and paste”? The Becker Blog never resorts to this. I’m trying to steal less from the New York Times then I used to. I realize that to make a good comment on something you need to post a mention of what you are commenting on but ..
2. Why isn’t there more subtle discussion of applied economics in blogs? I understand that this is the wrong medium for presenting formal models and laying out and defining cumbersome notation. Still, each week the NBER posts numerous thought provoking micro studies and yet I rarely see people posting even humorous pseudo-referee reports on what they think of these studies. Here I am less guilty. On several occasions, I have discussed nber papers in some detail. Unlike in a referee report, my reports are clearly “signed” so I’ve been nicer than if I was under the “veil of ignorance”. Put simply, where is the debate? There is too much macro/political economy debate taking place in blogs but too little micro debate. Andrew Gelman’s statistics blog at Columbia is a great example of what I would like to see. I look at his blog out of admiration even though I don’t really give a crap about statistics. His blog shows deep thought about core issues. He is simultaneously thinking and having fun rather than pretending that he is on Jay Leno’s couch being witty.

3. I would like to see Jim Heckman start a rotating blog where he debates a researcher and then when the foe wears out a new rival enters the ring. Similar to American Idol, people could then vote to cast their ballot concerning who they thought won the debate and a cash prize would be given to the winner. This would be a nicer version of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator but it is the same idea.
4. Perhaps Google could figure out how to use its “trends” feature to figure out who are the top 50 most exciting economists in the world and they pay them to blog together and argue in public so that the public can see how economists talk to each other. David Warsh’s new book attempts to show how “sausage is made” but it focuses on a narrow slightly esoteric subject.