Genuine vs Fake Economics Blogs

by Kieran Healy on August 22, 2007

Via a slightly ticked-off Max Sawicky comes this ranking of economics blogs, in which (like MaxSpeak) Crooked Timber does not feature. The author remarks,

bq. Only genuine economics blogs are included. … [and later, in a comment] By genuine, I meant not spam blogs or useless stock tips blogs, and not blogs that claim to be about economics but are really about politics (there are quite a few of those).

Usually, in the U.S., the key test of whether one is a real economist is a simple credential: you must have a Ph.D in economics. Choice of substantive topic certainly can’t be the discriminating factor, as is made clear by the position of the Freakonomics blog at the very top of the list. But by my count, we have at least as many Economics Ph.Ds writing here at CT as several of the blogs on this Top 10 list, and more than at least one of them.

If I were a cynical person — which of course I am not — I might say that the dividing line between what’s “really” economics and what’s “really” politics is itself something of a political question. (As Abba Lerner remarked, an economic transaction is a solved political problem.) Perhaps we often see instances where _I_ hold policy positions informed by scientific economics whereas _you_ are a mere advocate, pushing a political line. There was a pretty entertaining example on Mankiw’s blog the other week.

Anyway, on the measure used, Crooked Timber would be fourth on the list, if only the likes of John or Daniel or Ingrid (whose Ph.D was supervised by someone or other) could be thought of as having an informed point of view about economics.

_Update_: Aaron, the list compiler, comments below and is maybe a bit nicer than this somewhat irritable post merits. I think it was the “genuine economics” comment that set me off.



stuart 08.22.07 at 3:50 am

Might it not be the actual posts that count, after all a quick look down at the front page today shows that of the 10 articles, only two self identify as being anything to do with economics. From reading here for a while, I would suggest that’s pretty normal, and one hint might be the tag rankings – even when combined with Finance, Economics only manages 322 articles, where US politics alone is over 900.


nick s 08.22.07 at 4:15 am

If I were a cynical person—which of course I am not—I might say that the dividing line between what’s “really” economics and what’s “really” politics is itself something of a political question.

Pardon my cynicism, but is that top 10 going to have to include Megan McArdle’s new blog, seeing as her old one has been declared an economics blog?

Anyway, it appears to be yet another in the series of ‘top 10 lists created to logroll friends and entice readers I wouldn’t otherwise have.’ Only four months till the Observer does the same.


Aaron Schiff 08.22.07 at 4:51 am

I’m sorry if I offended you by leaving your blog out of my economics blog ranking. I’ve now added MaxSpeak after it was demonstrated that they had quite a number of recent posts about economics topics.

I don’t want to start a war about what is economics or what is politics, I just wanted to create a list of blogs where the main focus is economics. I agree that my comment about blogs that are about politics but pretend to be about economics was flippant and foolish. I’ve retracted that comment and apologised for offending anyone in another comment on my site.

I think there’s some value in a specialised list of blogs, so a line has to be drawn somewhere. I’m happy to discuss further by email, if you feel strongly about it.


Sebastian Holsclaw 08.22.07 at 5:02 am

You don’t think that for the most part you qualify as “and not blogs that claim to be about economics but are really about politics”?

And does this blog even claim to be about economics? I thought it was an interdisciplinary blog that included economics.


Eric H 08.22.07 at 5:03 am

“the key test of whether one is a real economist is a simple credential: you must have a Ph.D in economics.”

Is David Friedman a real economist?


notsneaky 08.22.07 at 6:12 am

I wouldn’t take it personally and in would like to suggest that you read the comment that the proprietor left:

“I’d like to apologise (sic) to anyone that I offended by saying that I haven’t included blogs that “claim to be about economics but are really about politics” in this ranking. By that, I didn’t mean to demean politics blogs, but I see that it could be taken that way. I’ve retracted that comment.

Overall I want to keep this ranking specialised to blogs where the main focus is economics. Of course that is hard to define, and so I have to make some judgement calls about which blogs to include or not. Please feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss the inclusion or exclusion of any particular blog.”

You guys are not a specialized economics blog in the sense that you’re about a lot of other stuff too. On the other hand Brad’s blog is probably less than 50% economics too.


Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 6:25 am

Is it my imagination or is economics, as an academic discipline, peculiarly concerned with generating (pseudo-)precise rankings of its institutions? In this regard it seems only challenged by (analytic) philosophy. These two fields are like the Championship Vinyl of academia.


notsneaky 08.22.07 at 6:46 am

It’s just your imagination.


SG 08.22.07 at 6:54 am

In order to answer that question so confidently notsneaky must have access to a ranking of the different disciplines’ predilection for rankings. Which could prove the point…


Dick Durata 08.22.07 at 7:12 am

Max needs to get a life ;-)


Kevin Donoghue 08.22.07 at 9:12 am

Kieran’s last paragraph is maybe a bit misleading. Daniel doesn’t have a PhD, indeed I think he said somewhere or other that PhD courses are a lousy investment (though he may have had statistics courses in mind rather than economics.)


alphie 08.22.07 at 10:18 am

How about some kinda real world contest to determine the top economics blogs?

Say, where will the Dow be one year from today?


Barry 08.22.07 at 10:46 am

Kieran: “Usually, in the U.S., the key test of whether one is a real economist is a simple credential: you must have a Ph.D in economics.”
NOTE: trimmed part restored.

“Is David Friedman a real economist?”
Posted by Eric H ·

Perhaps reading comprehension, and understand all clauses of a sentence would be the path to understanding that you are most in need of exploring.


novakant 08.22.07 at 12:03 pm

does Max really need to associate himself with PajamasMedia? yikes


Cranky Observer 08.22.07 at 12:21 pm

> Overall I want to keep this ranking specialised
> to blogs where the main focus is economics. Of
> course that is hard to define,

Thus neatly sidestepping the question of whether there is any such thing as “economics” as distinguished from political economy (and that setting aside the question of whether it all boils down to power (political) relationships in the end).



KCinDC 08.22.07 at 2:46 pm

Doesn’t Duncan “Atrios” Black have a PhD in economics? That certainly doesn’t make Eschaton an economics blog.

I definitely think of MaxSpeak as an economics blog, but have never thought of CT as one. That’s because of the content of the posts, not the academic qualifications of the bloggers.


Jim Johnson 08.22.07 at 2:50 pm

Ben, Actually, economists and philosophers are hardly alone in being preoccuppied with rankings of varius sorts. My department chair just gleefully circulated a ranking of political science departments that reflelcts favorably on our department, having readily ignored other such rankings, based on other criteria, that reflect relatively poorly on us. The entire enterprise is a bit idiotic. The ranking that our chair just circulated is based on a single criterion – placement of PhD graduates in R1 University Departments (weighted by quality of placement and size of home department). That seems useful (partiallly) as a planning device for prospective graduate students, but hardly a serious measure of departmental quality (as opposed, say, to narrowness of training). Here is the URL:

Moreover, our Proovost’s office has spent the better part of the past year hectoring faculty to respond to quesitonaires sent for the updated NRC rankings of departments.


John Emerson 08.22.07 at 3:44 pm

I think that perhaps the biggest problems with economics is the failure to distinguish theoretical and applied economics, the way chemistry and chemical engineering (for example) are distinguished. Chemical engineering is chemistry put to use for non-scientific purposes; it’s chemistry-plus (or you could also say, the subset of chemistry practical useful outside chemistry).

If the division were made, then the applications of economics would vary according to the practical purposes in view. But in fact, theoretical economics is also practical economics, and the applications are tacitly wired in. Economists who are not free-market ideologues don’t seem like real economists, because theoretical economics favors a limited range of applications (mostly maximizing the GNP).

It’s really a toxic stew of philosophical delusion. Economists claim to be value-free “real scientists”, and this allows the free-market ideologues to claim precedence over economists who take extreconomic factors into consideration. But theoretical economics isn’t non-normative; it’s crypto-normative. The norms of the theoretical-applied economic chimera are tacitly wired into the theory by exclusions and stipulations. Since unexpressed, these crypto-norms are uncriticizable.

Labor economics, environmental economics, and feminist economics are held in low repute within the field because they are not “purely scientific”. This is another way of saying that they are forms of applied economics governed by explicit practical criteria different from, or additional to, the implicit practical criteria wired into theoretical economics.

The idea that a non-normative pure science should have precedence over normative thinking for practical purposes is, of course, horrible and ridiculous. How can you have any applications without normative thinking? But many economists, perhaps most, think something like this.

Sometimes economists tip their hands by bending their own rules when discussing labor questions, feminist questions, or environmental questions. But usually the tacit wired-in norms of the theory are sufficient.

Amartya Sen and Hilary Putnam are good authors to read on these questions.


John Emerson 08.22.07 at 3:58 pm

7: When the kind of rankings of schools you see for philosophy (Leiter Report) and other disciplines come to be used by students to select schools to go to, and by schools to select grad students and to hire faculty, it seems to me that inevitably you’re going to see a narrowing of the field into a consensus “compact majority”, the exclusion of divergent points of view, and the fossilization of orthodoxy. This certainly seems to be happening, and I don’t think that it would be hard to do a game-theoretic (or other) simulation showing that this result is more or less inevitable.

The recent reconfiguration of the Notre Dame econ department is a case in point. It was motivated by rankings, and had the effect of squelching an interesting and unique tendency. Mirowski’s student will become unemployable.


John Emerson 08.22.07 at 5:28 pm

Damn. I killed the internet again.


Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 6:15 pm

I think you’re right about the effect of rankings, JE. But in the case of both economics and analytic philosophy, the narrowing preceded the rankings.

Before WWII, major economics departments were much more heterogeneous places than they became after the War.

And the exclusively analytic orientation of most American philosophy departments goes back to the 1950s, I think (see John McCumber’s Time in the Ditch for a political explanation of this, or Simon Glendinning’s The Idea of Continental Philsophy for a more internal, philosophical explanation).


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 08.22.07 at 8:23 pm

“Chemical engineering is chemistry put to use for non-scientific purposes”

No. Chemical Engineering is what wannabe chemists who realise they suck in the lab decide to do instead.


Sock Puppet of Sucky Reaction Yields


wood turtle 08.22.07 at 10:35 pm

I bought some crummy ponytail holders “Made in China.” Half of them broke already. If I blog about it, doesn’t that make me an economist?

Anyway, it would have been helpful to have separate catgories for original as opposed to mostly derived blog topics. Many economics blogs I noticed have a lot of similarity since they mostly reference the same material.


John Emerson 08.22.07 at 10:54 pm

Nope, sock puppet. Any applied chemistry is chemical engineering, and it’s useful in many areas including scientific areas outside chemistry. You’re projecting your own issues.


notsneaky 08.22.07 at 11:02 pm

I was just trying to head off yet another “Wellllllll, let ME tell you, what Ayyyyyyyyyy think is wrong with economics and economists” thread which stopped being not-quite-boring many moons ago, which, like, in internet time is back when the Visi and the Ostro Goths were one people hanging out in the Ukraine.


John Emerson 08.22.07 at 11:13 pm

The things are still wrong, albeit boring.


Eric H 08.23.07 at 3:38 am

Thanks, Barry, your precise definition of the word “usually”, incisive summary of geographic differences in qualification signalling, and masterful grammatical pedantry has been a tremendous help. So sorry about the humorectomy, though.


Barry 08.23.07 at 10:27 am

eric, it’s not lack of humor; I was pointing out that you changed the meaning of his statement.

I don’t know if it was deliberate, so I gave you the benefit of the doubt.


Miracle Max 08.23.07 at 12:47 pm

By the Ph.D. criterion a bunch of the ‘economics blogs’ (but not mine) would have to be stricken from the list. By the content criterion, as somebody mentioned, more than one site produced by a genuine econ Ph.D. would come into question.

If you’re trying to promote your site, Dick, this silly stuff turns out to matter.

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