Why does economics blogging matter?

Richard Baldwin on the gap between economic theory and practice:

In the 1980s, brilliant young economists like Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Jeff Sachs and Joe Stiglitz felt obliged to write Brookings or Economic Policy articles, to sit on government panels, to write policy reports, and to send Op-Ed pieces to the Financial Times. At the time, it was part of the definition of a being a leading scholar. It helped you get tenure at Harvard. It also bridged the gap between cutting-edge research and the public debate on trade policy, exchange rates, current account dynamics, etc.

Today’s brilliant young economists are much less interested in participating in the public debate in these ways. I have no empirical evidence to back up this opinion, but I think it is shared by many economists involved in economic policy issues and I had first-hand experience of it during my five years as a Managing Editor of Economic Policy. Young people need publications in good anonymously-reviewed journals; everything else is a luxury…

In the top economic journals, “Policy Implication” sections have fallen out of favour. Including such conjectures in a manuscript is unlikely to raise the probability of publication. Given the natural conservatism of the leading economic journals, there is probably no hope that the journals themselves will encourage authors to draw out the policy implications of their work. In any case, there is a widespread perception that policy analysis is not really the business of scientists. For example, the NBER Working Papers explicitly prohibit policy recommendations. The discussion of research results that does not take place in the journals has spilled over into cyberspace…

One can spend some pleasant hours browsing the various blogs – and even learn a lot from the big blogs, like “Economist’s View”, “New Economist”, ”Marginal Revolution”, and the sites of Brad DeLong, Greg Mankiw, and Nouriel Roubini. But this is not the profession’s response to the Discussion Sections of medical journals. It is more like the collegial coffee-room discussions we used to have when there was time for such things.

Blogs may be too informal to serve as policy discussion sections, but I love hanging out in the coffee room…