No, Bloggers, Economics Is Hard

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Don't be fooled by bloggers who make economics seem easy, writes Kartick Athreya of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. In a report titled "Economics is Hard. Don't Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise," Athreya slams amateur economic thinking, arguing that "neither non-economist bloggers, nor economists who portray economics ... as a simple enterprise with clear conclusions, are likely to contribute any insight to discussion of economics and, as a result, should be ignored by an open-minded lay public." While Athreya targets particular writers who attempt to simplify economic policy--he calls out Matt Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson, and Robert Reich by name--bloggers hold a special place in his heart. After all, he argues, the dismal science is too complex to be compartmentalized in a short-form thought experiment:

When a professional research economist thinks or talks about social insurance, unemployment, taxes, budget deficits, or sovereign debt, among other things, they almost always have a very precisely articulated model that has been vetted repeatedly for internal coherence.Critically, it is one whose constituent assumptions and parts are visible to all present,and can be fought over.And what I certainly know is that to even begin to talk about the effects of unemployment, debt, deficits, or taxes, one has to think very hard about many, many things. Examples of this approach done right in the context of some of the topics mentioned above are recent papers by Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, Jonathan Heathcote of the Minneapolis Fed, or Dirk Kreuger and his co-authors.Comparing, even momentarily, such careful work with its explicit, careful reasoning, its ever-mindful approach to the accounting for feedback effects, and its transparent reproducibility, with the sophomoric musings of auto-didact or non-didact bloggers or writers is instructive. For those who want to really know what the best that economics has to offer is, you must look here. And this will be hard.

UPDATE, 4:12 PM:  See Matthew Yglesias's response to Athreya here.

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