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September 10, 2004

Preview: The Economists' Voice: A Manifesto

Economists are losing the battle for mindshare in public debates and discussions about the economy. Too much of what we economists write meets the technical canons of modern economics, but reaches a very small audience (if it reaches any audience at all). Too much of the rest of what we write is murdered by being forced into the Procrustean bed of the 700-word op-ed: a space too small to make any but the most pathetic and oversimplified excuse for an argument. The result is that public understanding of the economy is abysmal, and the intellectual level of the public debate is far too low. We economists all can, no doubt, think of a dozen examples in the past month of hideous errors in the public perception of the economy and hideous mistakes made in good faith (i.e., not by lobbyists) about the effects of public policies. (And, because we are all economists, we economists at least would all largely agree on at least 80% of what are hideous mistakes.)

We--that is, Joe Stiglitz, Aaron Edlin, and I--aim to start an online publication, The Economists' Voice, to be "published" by Berkeley Electronic Press, to try to remedy this situation. The two youngest of us are confident that we have a very good chance of succeeding. Our confidence is based on one fact: Joe Stiglitz thinks that this will work, and his judgment in this area is very good, as is shown by the remarkable success of the Journal of Economic Perspectives which has greatly increased the flow of information across the subfields of economics, and done a remarkable job of welding the American Economic Association into a stronger intellectual community.

The Economists' Voice will aim for pieces longer than an op-ed and shorter than (and much more readable than) a piece for a standard journal. We thus avoid the op-ed problem--the problem that op-ed space is too short for an argument, and only provides space to be shrill. But we also hope to stay short enough to be readable, and understandable. And we will aim for quick turnaround--days rather than the years of journals.

The level will be non-technical but sophisticated: perhaps what one expects to read in the Financial Times and the news pages of the Wall Street or National Journal, or perhaps a notch above. The aim will be to provide an economist's argument and point of view on some salient and interesting issue: a survey of something interesting happening in the economy, or a call for some change in policy or institutions--which would consist of a review of what the principal important factors are, what the objective function is, what the constraints are, why the objective function is maximized at the particular set of policies or institutional arrangements that the author prefers.

We will launch the The Economists' Voice later this year. We will succeed if we become *the* place on the internet where economists, journalists, interested observers, staffers, and others turn in search of high-quality comprehensible economic analysis.

Posted by DeLong at September 10, 2004 09:41 PM