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December 30, 2004

Expanding Your Own World Wide Web

Bruce Bartlett tells us what to read:

Bruce Bartlett: The blogger take on the issues: What I have discovered in the past year is that there is increasing specialization among bloggers, with more staking out narrow areas of commentary.  Since my main interests are economics and tax policy, I have singled out a few blogs in these areas that I have found to be valuable resources.

 In the tax area, the most prolific blogger is tax professor Paul Caron of the University of Cincinnati.  I find him useful because he really keeps on top of the scholarly research among other tax professors.  In most cases, this research is available on the Internet in the form of working papers that may be available months or even years before they appear in inaccessible law reviews.  This is extremely valuable to me in terms of keeping ahead of the curve on tax research.

 Other tax professor bloggers are James Maule of Villanova University and Daniel Shaviro of New York University.  They tend to talk more about current tax policy issues from an academic point of view. What I like about both of them is that they are highly opinionated.  Neither pulls any punches in saying what they think is stupid about recent or proposed tax legislation.  I don’t always agree with them, but they always make me think.

 Another tax perspective comes from Kerry Kerstetter, a certified public accountant.  His commentary is less academic and more practical.  He offers advice on real world tax problems, especially those faced by small businessmen.  And he seems to find every cartoon dealing with taxes that appears anywhere.

 On economics, I have become a regular reader of the blog jointly produced by George Mason University professors Don Boudreaux and Russell Roberts.  They are particularly good on free trade, an area where even some free marketeers have been seduced by the siren song of protectionism.  Boudreaux and Roberts also do a good job of making technical issues accessible to a general audience.

 On international trade, an indispensable blogger is political scientist Daniel Drezner of the University of Chicago.  He has been especially outstanding on the so-called outsourcing issue and does an excellent job of staying on top of the research in this area.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that every single serious article or paper on this subject has shown it to be a non-issue, it continues to excite xenophobes and others who lie awake nights worrying about the trade deficit.

 Blogger professor Andrew Samwick of Dartmouth University may become must reading in the coming year because he is an expert on Social Security privatization.  Although favorable to the idea in principle, he is skeptical of free-lunch solutions, which could make his commentary particularly timely.
I am right leaning, politically, but I continue to find value in the commentary from friends on the left.  The best is Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly magazine.  The magazine itself has gone downhill, in my opinion, having become more doctrinaire and less iconoclastic since the retirement of its founder, Charlie Peters.  But Kevin remains sufficiently independent to keep me reading.

 Another lefty web site that I read regularly is someone known only as “Angry Bear.”  I don’t know who he is, but he offers sophisticated commentary by an economist with a left wing perspective.  He is very good at poking holes in weak conservative arguments for policies that I support, helping me strengthen those arguments and help get them enacted.

 One disappointment this year in the blog area has been the weakness of some institutional blogs, those sponsored by newspapers and thinks tanks.  They are often unreadable and seldom linked to.  It confirms my view that blogs are necessarily idiosyncratic and need to be pretty independent in order to be successful.

 I believe that the Internet has barely scratched the surface in using blogs to analyze and disseminate information.  I look forward to their continued evolution.

Posted by DeLong at December 30, 2004 06:59 PM

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"One disappointment this year in the blog area has been the weakness of some institutional blogs, those sponsored by newspapers and thinks tanks. They are often unreadable and seldom linked to..."

While not an economic related 'blog', Kausfiles is the most prominent example of an institutional flop. I don't ever remember reading a link to a good idea proposed by Mickey Kaus, despite his being the occupant of a prime piece of internet real estate.

After their ownership shakeup, I'd like to think Slate is cutting edge enough to get an interesting and readable blogger (or group of them) to put that golden URL to better blogging use. Alas, they and Kaus continue to disappoint.

Posted by: wunderdog at December 30, 2004 07:39 PM

Yet again he shows the typical blindness of economists, including for the most part, alas, our host, as to what the actual complaint is regarding free trade. Of course he is conservative, so I can see why he may not appreciate the argument against it. What I don't understand, and yet see so often, is that "liberal" or "left" economists don't seem to get the objects, but instead go off on a weird tangent about "real wages" or something.

I suspect it's because they've forgotten about class.

Posted by: Mandos at December 30, 2004 08:56 PM

After reading Bartlett's recommendations, I visited Angry Bear (great name), and immediately found a very good quantitative yet layman-accessible explanation of Social Security and indeed the whole concept of insurance.

Excellent post.

Posted by: Ralph at December 30, 2004 09:01 PM

The problem with the analyses that Bartlett cites approvingly that "prove" that offshoring is a non-issue is they are full of assumptions. Lots and lots of assumptions. One of the greatest weaknesses of economists is the dependence on how things worked in the past with little or no willingness to recognize that things change. They want to believe that they have core underlying rules that are immune to any change in the environment they operate in. Repeat after me, comparative advantage as you knew it is dead. This is just one of the things that don't appear to have soaked into the conservative economist mindset.

Posted by: Jim S at December 30, 2004 11:18 PM

Brad: Bruce Bartlett tells us what to read

Oh, yes, he sure does. Minicng no words, fearing no difficulties, charging forward with the pitiful cry of an idiot.

Bruce Bartlett: He has been especially outstanding on the so-called outsourcing issue and does an excellent job of staying on top of the research in this area. Unfortunately, despite the fact that every single serious article or paper on this subject has shown it to be a non-issue, it continues to excite xenophobes and others who lie awake nights worrying about the trade deficit.

Posted by: a at December 31, 2004 03:56 AM

"I suspect it's because they've forgotten about class."

Posted by: Mandos

I don't think that there's a right-wing economist who has forgotten about class. They just act like it in public, very carefully.

Posted by: Barry at December 31, 2004 05:58 AM

A propos of the title, what has become of our host's blogroll? It vanished after the Movable Type version change.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg at December 31, 2004 06:03 AM

Here's my question for Bartlett (and Brad as well): were the turn-of-the-century Progressives who wanted the federal government to regulate the American economy merely Northern "xenophobes" who feared competition with an alien South? Because that's the closest comparison for our current situation. As in 1900, the units of commerce increasingly exceed the jurisdiction of established authority, and the speed of movement has created economic dislocations (think the steel industry of Gary, Indiana).

But while Progressives and New Dealers could turn to the federal government to regulate national corporations (especially after 1937), we don't have that option. When contemporary economists call for free trade without strengthening international rules governing political rights, environmental degradation, and work conditions, they're effectively calling for laissez faire. For right wingers like Bartlett that's no problem. But it should give Democrats some pause.

Posted by: AWC at December 31, 2004 06:46 AM

I'd like to know which free market economists are allegedly wavering on free trade. I've always thought that economists agree on two things: communism doesn't work and free trade is a good thing. (I might add a third about long-term deficits, but I am not sure.) Perhaps there is just a blurring between the economic science behind free trade, which is perfectly sound, and the social and political aspects of it, which can change from time to time.

Posted by: Brian at December 31, 2004 07:46 AM

It appears to be time to find Dr. D.'s take on the Uruguay GATT agreement...

(Yes, I know it's been 11[?] years, but if I had to pick a point where the terms became clearly interchangeable...)

And why has no one else commented that, if we believed Bartlett-san, we would go to Vox, Baby instead of reading here or MaxSpeak?

Posted by: Ken Houghton at December 31, 2004 07:47 AM

The whole point behind the current vicious class war, from the right's point of view, has been to deny that class actually exists. It's the whole Horatio Alger deal to keep everyone believing that they, too, can share in the dream when, in reality, they will never even enter REM sleep economically.

The right in this country is now, and has been for quite awhile, employing the tactics that were used to eviscerate the radical labor movements in Japan and italy after WWII, with similar effect.

Class warfare, what class warfare? What are you, some sort of communist? Yes, labels work very efffectively, don't they?

Happy New Year everyone.

Posted by: matt at December 31, 2004 08:31 AM


China's 'Haves' Stir the 'Have Nots' to Violence

WANZHOU, China - The encounter, at first, seemed purely pedestrian. A man carrying a bag passed a husband and wife on a sidewalk. The man's bag brushed the woman's pants leg, leaving a trace of mud. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued.

Easily forgettable, except that one of the men, Yu Jikui, was a lowly porter. The other, Hu Quanzong, boasted that he was a ranking government official. Mr. Hu beat Mr. Yu using the porter's own carrying stick, then threatened to have him killed.

For Wanzhou, a Yangtze River port city, the script was incendiary. Onlookers spread word that a senior official had abused a helpless porter. By nightfall, tens of thousands of people had swarmed Wanzhou's central square, where they tipped over government vehicles, pummeled policemen and set fire to city hall.

Minor street quarrel provokes mass riot. The Communist Party, obsessed with enforcing social stability, has few worse fears. Yet the Wanzhou uprising, which occurred on Oct. 18, is one of nearly a dozen such incidents in the past three months, many touched off by government corruption, police abuse and the inequality of the riches accruing to the powerful and well connected.

"People can see how corrupt the government is while they barely have enough to eat," said Mr. Yu, reflecting on the uprising that made him an instant proletarian hero - and later forced him into seclusion. "Our society has a short fuse, just waiting for a spark."

Posted by: anne at December 31, 2004 09:18 AM

Quoth Barry:

"I don't think that there's a right-wing economist who has forgotten about class. They just act like it in public, very carefully."

Oh, surely not, I agree. But what irks me more is that there are "left-leaning" economists like Brad (or at least ones with their hearts in the right place) who don't seem to understand the objection. Brad calls himself a "card-carrying neoliberal" after all.

Posted by: Mandos at December 31, 2004 09:28 AM


"I suspect it's because they've forgotten about class."

The fact that right wing and left wing economists pretty much agree on free trade while disagreeing on many other issues - taxation, minimum wages, unions, health care etc. etc. etc. - should be enough for you to at least consider the possibility that no one's forgetting about class, but rather that there's a pretty strong and empirically supported argument in favor of free trade. Else, you not only have to accuse left wing economists of amnesia but schizophrenia as well. And while it may be comforting to believe that those who disagree with you do so because they suffer from neurological disorders, one would hope that an open minded and inquisitive person, when presented with professional unanimity on a particular subject matter would at least entertain the possibility that it is they who are being ignorant and dismissive. To their own intellectual detriment.

Posted by: radek at December 31, 2004 06:02 PM

Jim S.:

"Repeat after me, comparative advantage as you knew it is dead. "

It's ignorant statements like these that make me throw up my hands and give up the hope of ever being able to have a real discussion on the topic of international trade with some people. The very fact you say comparative advantage is dead basically reveals that you do not understand the concept to begin with.
(and please, if the response is going to be "we're in a world of mobile capital now" don't bother - it doesn't matter!)

"they are full of assumptions. Lots and lots of assumptions."

There are always assumptions. You make any statement which describes a phenomenon in the world, you're making assumptions. Lots and lots of assumptions. Some of them relevant some merely auxiliary. But they're there. The case for free trade is pretty robust to alternative assumptions. Two of the exceptions - infant industry and terms of trade - are not applicable with any generality. The third - existence of externalities - calls for a domestic fix to what is essentially a domestic problem. Even if relevant in some particular case these constitute an exception to a general rule which in turn implies that the burden of proof is on those advocating protectionism.

Posted by: radek at December 31, 2004 06:19 PM