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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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On Being Invited to do an Economy Blog

Uploaded: Apr 2, 2009
I have mixed feelings about Town Square. I like the idea of a forum for community online conversation. When Jay Thorwaldson approached me, I wanted to respond positively and, of course, there is no getting around that writing a blog is fun.

I like to explain economics so it is more understandable to people. That is particularly of interest in times like this when the economy is so scary and such a topic of concern for families everywhere.

Most economists agree with 90% of the basic ideas in economics. But it is usually the 10% where people disagree that get the most attention and often the technical and ideological disagreements (for example, about the impact and benefit of various tax policies) overwhelm the public discussion. People are drawn to view the world as divided into "Republican" economists and "Democratic" economists who spend their time in verbal sword fighting.

I am interested in seeing if I can focus on the 90% and this blog is an experiment in that goal. I also think the displaying the 90% where there is agreement is especially important in the current deep recession where people are afraid and their future is more than usually tied to the success of policies and ideas they see every day in the economic news.

But personal comments or sarcastic or rude postings are not consistent with the kind of conversations I find useful. And while Town Square is directly in the mainstream of newspaper online blog experiments, I wanted to try something different

So I negotiated with the Weekly to have a blog where respondents need to register and where I have some say in whether comments stay up if they are rude or personal. We are working toward a format where comments are first reviewed by a moderator as is done on some online forums.

All of the ideas that I will write about have been said in person by me to some audience. And I have never had a rude or personal comment come back.

I don't think this is because I never screw up a fact or an argument. After all it is now widely publicized that white people with blue eyes are at the heart of our economic distress and it is very courageous of the Weekly to go with a white blue-eyed economist as a blogger. Or maybe they and I were just clueless when we agreed to start this experiment.

I think the reason there is no rudeness is that it disappears when you must look the other person in the eye and you have a name just like them. In this situation the bloggers have names and I am trying to replicate the real life situation where conversation is between people with names and the personal responsibility that goes with being known to the person you might disrespect.

In my professional life I work with groups that are trying to invite people into public policy discussions who are usually overlooked or afraid to speak out. I think a civil blog invites these people in who might not participate if they get put down or called silly or socialist or some of the other stuff that goes on in online forums.

Perhaps for some people what I want isn't their kind of forum. Or perhaps nothing I have to say is interesting enough to comment on respectfully. But I hope that people will respect this experiment in seeing who might want to register and participate in a different kind of conversation.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by resident, a resident of ,
on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Well, Jay, I welcome your blog, but you have to understand that people feel very strongly about the economy, and quite frankly you're writing to a bunch of very well-educated readers. It takes a thick skin to do what you do around here. Good luck!

Posted by resident, a resident of ,
on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Or rather, Stephen, excuse me, got your name mixed up with the editor. Sorry about that.
You also have to understand that a lot of us who enjoy reading the Weekly for our local news also read the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, the Economist, watch CNBC, read Bloomberg, read economically related books, and probably subscribe to a bunch of economic newsletters. In addition, we all probably have something invested in the stock market and own real estate.
I am interested to read your perspective on the economy, but I do not know your background. Perhaps the Weekly could keep a constant bio next to each of your posts, so we know where you're coming from.
It's difficult to avoid discussing our current economy without discussing politics as the two are obviously becoming more and more interwined. Hope this helps give you more confidence and weather the sometimes harsh comments. It comes with the territory of writing in a public forum.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Resident -- Well, you surely stopped me cold for a moment. Good suggestion on a standing mini-bio on the bloggers. Thanks for your supportive comments.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

P.S. Nothing personal to "Resident," who made good comments, but Steve has requested requiring registration for respondents to comment in line with his concerns about the tone of some anonymous posters on Town Square, so I've activated the registration-required feature.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Apr 3, 2009 at 5:59 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Resident makes three good points.

First, it is true that many readers are actively following the economy, well-educated and active consumers of media coverage. But even in Palo Alto many residents follow the economy less closely. So our audience is a mixture of people with quite different levels of backaground and connection to CNBC or the Wall Street Journal. I hope the blog is interesting to both groups.

Second, the development and discussion of policies about the economy does combine technical considerations with politics. That is one of the reasons it is hard to do what I want to try -- focusing on areas of agreement and explanation.

My reading of Town Square is that there are plenty of places to debate Obama's policies from a right or wrong perspective so if I try to minimize that aspect of conversation it is no great loss to readers options to weigh in elsewhere.

Finally, the idea of background info is good. Jay and I will work on the idea of bios for bloggers. If you want to see what I do check out the website of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy www.ccsce.com. For the recent writings look at the Numbers in the News memos.

Posted by Marie, a resident of ,
on Apr 3, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Hi Stephen,

I welcome a moderated blog. I am one of the registered readers who rarely posts because of the amount of vitriol expressed by many anonymous posters. I welcome honest disagreements but dislike personal invective. I welcome a blog that eliminates messages with little rational content and much bigotry, trolls, and those who use a given thread to harp on some personal concern only peripherally related to the topic.

Wishing you lots of success and and many posts with relevant alternative viewpoints.

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