Why don’t economists blog in Italy? (Same could be applied to India as well..)

Paolo Manasse, Econ Professor at the University of Bologna ponders over this issue.

He points to this new paper by McKenzie and Özler which looks at economics of blogs. They say blogs help in three things:

a)     A link from the eight major American blogs to papers enhances significantly their number of downloads and abstract views;
b)     That writing a blog significantly improves the author’s reputation above his scientific peers;
c)     That blogs affect the opinions of the readers.

Most of these economists bloggers are from US. When the utility is high, why don’t Italian econs blog as well. Most top blogs in Italy are collective blogs and not run by individuals. Why so?

Thus in the US the blogs of individual economists, often academics, significantly increase the visibility of scientific papers, the reputation of the authors, and affect the readers’ opinions – three good reasons to ‘waste’ time blogging. But then why do Italian academics, with few exceptions, not have blogs?

If you scroll down the ranking of the most popular 500 Italian blogs in economics you find, almost exclusively, ‘collective’ blogs, such as lavoce.info (the Italian partner of voxeu.org).

Certainly this cannot be due to individual incentives relating to the academic career. If blogging has a high opportunity cost because it subtracts precious time from research, this explanation would imply that academic merit has a larger impact on academic careers in Italy than in the US, which is rather implausible.

The alternative explanation relies on nonacademic incentives. If the individual benefits (personal reputation, dissemination of results, ability to influence the public opinion) are perceived in Italy as a fraction of those accruing in the US, it is rational to share the costs by joining a collective blog. But then this explanation leads to another question. What explains this perception?

He offers several hypothesis for these and asks PhD students to volunteer:

I advance here a few hypotheses:

  • Italy’s ‘economic literacy’ is far below that of the US, and this implies lower benefits from blogging;
  • Italy’s concentration of media ownership is far larger in Italy, which leaves less room for individual initiatives;
  • Italian (European) economists share a Catholic/post-Marxist culture which places much less confidence on individual, as opposed to collective, achievement;
  • The ‘market size’ is much lower in Italy, also due to language barriers, and this limits the gains from blogging;1
  • The benefits of personal (nonmarket) networks in Italy are far larger than the benefits of market-oriented activities such as blogging.

These possible explanations deserve empirical scrutiny. Any PhD student volunteers?

The same is likely to apply to Indian economists as well. There are hardly any bloggers who explain developments in Indian economy, research work etc barring a few like Ajay Shah.

Blog helps in other ways as Krugman reflects. He says there are concerns and advantages with blogging. Concern is anyone becomes an economist now:

The concern, or maybe just issue, is whether the rise of econoblogs is undermining the gatekeepers, whether any old Joe can now weigh in on economic debate, whereas in the good old days you had to publish in the journals, which meant getting through the refereeing process.

He differs saying role of journals has declined over the years. The economic ideas are now disseminated in seminars and via working papers and no one really waits for the next big idea in a journal. Blogs have just opened up this process more:

What the blogs have done, in a way, is open up that process. Twenty years ago it was possible and even normal to get research into circulation and have everyone talking about it without having gone through the refereeing process – but you had to be part of a certain circle, and basically had to have graduated from a prestigious department, to be part of that game. Now you can break in from anywhere; although there’s still at any given time a sort of magic circle that’s hard to get into, it’s less formal and less defined by where you sit or where you went to school.

All these reasons make blogging a more serious activity than it is credited. Both Indian and Italian economists can look at blogs as a way to tell the world about their/other research on Indian/Italian/World economy.

India in particular is really starved of sources of good economic research. Am sure people are doing good research. Just that they need to reach out and share it with others. Most seem to prefer waiting for a journal to publish it…

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One Response to “Why don’t economists blog in Italy? (Same could be applied to India as well..)”

  1. PB Says:

    I think India suffers from a lack of data. I am not sure but I’ll bet that the amount of data available about the Italian economy is less than that of the US.

    Also, India has an educational deficit when it comes to economics. I learned economics only in the 9th standard and it was one amongst two other co-subjects under Social Studies.

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