In his blog today Paul Krugman replies to a more or less friendly criticism of progressive economists. Those who write blogs that argue against much of the conventional wisdom. As a member of the choir he preaches to. I enjoyed it.
Chris House replies graciously to my critique of his critique. However, I have some further thoughts here. The crucial question, it seems to me, is what econobloggers — and in particular, those who happen to be political progressives — are doing, and what they should be trying to do.
House sees the kind of blogging I and a number (but not a large number, which is important) of other people are doing as a matter of preaching to the choir, talking in the echo chamber, whatever. And he therefore argues that we should bend over backward to avoid reinforcing our audience’s prejudices.
But I see myself, and Mark Thoma, and Brad DeLong, and Mike Konczal, and Simon Wren-Lewis, and a few others as something quite different — as voices in the wilderness.
Now, you may say that it’s a pretty cushy wilderness — and in my case it definitely is; not just monetarily, but my spot at the Times is a dream gig for many journalists, I have a million Twitter followers, etc. etc. You may also say that there is indeed a choir that hears my preaching — and for sure there is; plenty of liberals read me for reassurance in what they already believed.
But other people also read me — often with distaste, but still they do hear what I say. What I and other econobloggers write is heard at the ECB, the IMF. the European Commission, CBO, the White House, Treasury, and so on. So there is some outreach.
And on the other hand, while it may be a comfortable wilderness, it’s a wilderness all the same. Politics and policy are overwhelmingly dominated by what I call the Very Serious People — people who insist that deficits are our most pressing problem, that high unemployment must be a matter of inadequate skills, that low marginal tax rates on the rich are essential for growth. Behind the conventional wisdom of the VSPs lies a vast mass of power and prejudice. As Ezra Klein once pointed out in connection with Alan Simpson, the influence of the deficit scolds is so great that by and large the press abandons any notion of objectivity and simply assumes that the VSPs are right and what they want is good.
And against all this power of conventional wisdom — which is often, by the way, at odds with basic economic analysis and the preponderance of evidence — you have … a handful of progressive economics bloggers. Some of them — well, mainly me — have prominent perches. But it’s still a very unequal match.
So I see no reason to bend over backwards to annoy my most loyal readers. I won’t ever say anything I don’t believe to be true, and I try not to sheer away from saying things my fan club will dislike. But shocking the liberal bourgeoisie is not how I see my job.