Economists Do It With Models

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Adventures In Interviews I Can’t Read, Colombia Edition…

December 16th, 2012 · 1 Comment

So the last time this happened, the article was in Italian, so I didn’t feel too silly that I couldn’t read it. This time it’s in Spanish, so I have much less of an excuse. I am told that Google translate works pretty well for things like this, but that humor doesn’t come across very well. (It probably doesn’t help that the “do it” phrasing is fair English-specific.) Nonetheless, I thought it would be better to give you the original interview transcript. (Note that the interviewers’ English is far better than my Spanish)

First, we would like to know What was the prime motivation to start your blog?

I started writing online because I was teaching an introductory economics course and my students had a number of questions related to economics (but not necessarily related to the course) that I didn’t have time to address in class. I figured that a blog was a better solution than just sending emails to my students.

Is still this motivation?

Luckily, I now feel like I have more time for discussion in my course meetings, so now I write for a more general audience because I like sharing a subject that I feel is very interesting and important. In fact, I now sometimes bring topics that I’ve written about online into the classroom rather than the other way around.

What are the topics you write? And why these?

The topics that I write about on my site are a bit random. (I write for another site- where I am more organized about covering topics that are usually part of an introductory economics course or current events discussion.) The randomness arises because I really like to use a cartoon, video clip, or other funny or entertaining medium to motivate my discussion, and I can’t really control when I come across such things. That said, I do try to make sure that I cover timely subjects that I think are my important for my readers to understand, such as the fiscal cliff, chained CPI, and so on.

What is the effect you want to have on the people who read your blog?

Ideally, I want people to learn economic concepts that will help them be better citizens, consumers, and voters without even realizing that that is what they are doing. I will settle for being able to lead people to what they need to know (either by writing myself or via social media) in order to feel confident that they can follow and participate in economic discussions that take place in the media, in business, and in politics. I feature pop economics topics every once in a while, but my overall goal is for what I talk about to give people more than just fun things to talk about at cocktail parties.

Who is the economist who has most influenced your work?

It’s too hard to pick just one! I think my favorite economists fall into a number of categories:
1. The behavioral economics crowd, since that is my main area of focus- Dan Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Dan Ariely
2. Economists who are using their tools to solve real-world problems- Al Roth, Esther Duflo, and Roland Fryer
3. Economists that I know personally (albeit peripherally in some cases) who have similar ideologies regarding teaching and learning economics – Greg Mankiw and Steve Levitt
I think that the economists that most specifically influence my work are those who are actively interested in bringing economics to a non-academic audience, and most of those that I’ve listed above count in that category, which is probably not a coincidence.

Which is your favorite economy blog (after yours)?

Because I want to always know what is happening in the economics community, I follow a large number of economics blogs, many of which are quite good. That said, if I was going to recommend a single source for someone looking to better understand what they hear and read in the news, it would be Wonkblog at the Washington Post. Ezra Klein and his colleagues do a great job of keeping readers abreast of policy-related current events and explaining things for people who don’t have a lot of background knowledge.

Have you receive some institutional support?

I’m not exactly sure what you mean- I don’t get direct support for my site from my university, but my teaching schedule gives me the time to work on other projects, and my department is supportive of what I do. My department head even comments on my site every once in a while!

How many visitor do you have each day or month?

I’m not sure, actually- I installed some site analytics tools a while ago but I don’t really look at them. I’m generally more interested in the level of engagement that I observe than simply the number of readers or page views, and I definitely observe that that engagement is growing. I’m constantly pleasantly surprised by the introductions and inquiries that I get from people that I would never have expected to meet, and it’s really fun to think about all of the different states and countries that I’ve sent t-shirts and stickers to.

What can you tell us about t-shirts and EDIWM merchandise? The money raised has a particular purpose?

I got a lot of positive feedback about the site’s title and logo, so I figured that t-shirts and other merchandise would be something that people would want. I don’t have the resources to deal with a lot of inventory and such, so I do the fulfillment for the t-shirts and stickers myself but outsource everything else to print-on-demand vendors. (The upside of that is that I can offer a wide variety of products to suit most people’s tastes.) The money raised goes to dray the costs of the web site and the office where I film the videos that you see on YouTube.

Who design the logo ? how many hours did you take?

The inspiration for the logo was sent to me by a former coworker of mine, and I hired a graphic designer to work out a version that would be appropriate for me. I’m not sure how long it took her, but it certainly took her less time than it would have taken me.

What you do not like of the economists? There is an event, blog, interview or something else that has caused more rejection in the economic community?

I think that criticism is an inevitable result of having a public persona, and it’s something that I (or any other economist) am certainly not immune to. That said, the criticism and inappropriate comments that I have encountered seem to come mainly from the grad student community rather than people I am trying to do business with directly, and it often has little to do with my actual work, so it’s not something that I think about a lot. The people who I look up to in the economics world have been pretty universally supportive, and I am very grateful for that- I even caught Steve Levitt checking out my site on his phone once!

Finally, we´re thinking in ours students, what to do to understand the economy?

In order to get the most out of what economics has to offer, I think it’s really important to combine what is taught in the classroom with knowledge of the economic concepts that are discussed in the news. Often times, these two categories don’t overlap as much as they probably should, and both are necessary in order to speak intelligently on the subject. In addition, it’s crucial to continue reading and learning about economics even when school is over, since it’s far too easy for knowledge to get forgotten or become out of date.

Feel free to translate “economists do it with models” into other languages in the comments. :)

Tags: Press

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Viktor // Dec 17, 2012 at 4:21 am

    In Swedish it is fairly straight forward: Ekonomer gör det med modeller. It is a direct translation, though I suspect that the key ambiguity in “do it”/”gör det” is one that was borrowed from English fairly recently.

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