Why we blog

Nicholas Carr thinks Greg Mankiw should stop blogging. His rationale is the economic concept of “comparative advantage” – that is, Greg Mankiw is a brilliant economist and should focus on “research and journal writing”, and leave blogging to “tolerable bloggers” – e.g. Chris Lilik.

Nonetheless, I will recommend that Greg Mankiw keep blogging. Two reasons –

First, blogging and research are not mutual exclusive activities. Here is a little secret – the primary audience of this blog is the Commonwealth Foundation. I use this blog (I am putting myself into the brilliant researcher category with Mankiw for now) to keep track of ideas, research reports, newspaper articles, and such, that the Commonwealth Foundation may use in future research. For instance, we like to do frequent analysis of the economic impact of corporate welfare. Thus, I would click over on the Corporate Welfare label and would like use this post for reference. I assume Mankiw does the same.

Second, blogging adds value to research and journal writing. Quite frankly, Nicholas Carr overestimates the value of academic research and journals, as they are often unproductive activities (subsidized through tax dollars and higher tuition), and underestimates the productivity value of blogging. (Note: the concern over economist-bloggers “steadily raising their opportunity costs without producing much if any income” could be handled by Mankiw selling ads on his blog, thus subsidizing his research).

Academic journals are typically unread and ideas don’t get widely disseminated. However, with a short blog post, Greg Mankiw can reach an audience of thousands outside economics departments. Carr suggests this work could be left to “tolerable bloggers,” but – as I am now considering myself a tolerable blogger – I don’t read the Quarterly Journal of Economics (even in cases of insomnia), and I rely on Greg Mankiw to tell me if he wrote something brilliant lately – such as his co-authored paper on taxing height. After he spends the time doing the research, he posts a short blog entry. Then I read his post and post my own blog entry on it. Then maybe the Tax Foundation and others (there are at least 18 blogs linking back to Mankiw’s original post) blog on it. Thus, Mankiw, with a few minutes spent blogging, reached not only his blog’s audience, but reached multiple blogs with multiple audiences, thus advancing his ideas well beyond those perusing Harvard’s website for working papers.

I think the economics of comparative advantage and even of supply and demand need to be re-evaluated in light of blogs, websites, YouTube!, downloadable software, etc. in which there are 1) no additional cost for more users and 2) which non-consumability and “sharing with friends” increases consumption. Does demand create its own demand? Maybe such an analysis has been done, but as I mentioned, I don’t read the Quarterly Journal of Economics.