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The invisible hand on the keyboard

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Aug• 11•06

In this week’s Economist magazine, one article (“The invisible hand on the keyboard“) asks why economists spend valuable time blogging.  Some of the more popular blogs receive thousands of visitors daily, yet why would an economist supply their output (knowledge) for free when they can receive payment from a university, the government, or private business for their work?  The article gives a few reasons:

  1. Self promotion – Economists with popular blogs may become more prestigious.  Further, the authors can plug any of the books or journal articles which they have published. 
  2. Refining one’s ideas and engaging in stimulating activity – Greg Mankiw at Harvard muses over his blogging participation and states, “It’s a natural extension of my day job-to engage in intellectual discourse about economics.”  Nobel-prize winner Gary Becker believed his blog would permit “instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement , and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship generated by the bloggers.”
  3. Fun – most economist enjoy intellectual discussion and blogging is one of the bests ways for a wide variety of individuals to participate in the discussion.

The Economist article also suggests that blogging, and the internet more generally, has reduced the competitive advantage of top universities.  Since anyone can access experts through their blogs and the web, academia has become more egalitarian.  Their point is supported by a 2006 NBER working paper by Kim, Morese and Zingales (“Are elite universities losing their competitive edge“).

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