Old anxiety (and a bit of auld lang syne-ity as well)

I notice that other bloggers are discussing the big events of 2012, or predicting the big events of 2013.  I don’t do predictions, other than to echo market predictions.  (Yes I know; how boring!  And yes, that does mean I’m not an alpha male.)

I suppose this means I think Chinese growth will keep plugging along at 8% plus, as that number seems to be embedded in market forecasts.  So if the markets are wrong then I will have also been wrong.  Ditto for any previous errors made by the market consensus.  This puts me at odds with people like Michael Pettis (he predicts a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth.)  I think Chinese growth will slow, but gradually.

This is also a time for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m too unselfish (or too much a realist) to think that I’d ever actually fulfill promises to myself.

As I look back over the past 4 years I see a steady deterioration in this blog.  The posts are increasingly simplistic, repetitive, grouchy and snarky.  Bill James says that baseball players peak at age 27.  I don’t know when “peak blogging” occurs, I’d guess somewhere between Evan Soltas’s 19 and my 57. Probably somewhere in Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias/Ryan Avent/Bryan Caplan territory.  I’m over the hill.

When I reread my posts from the first year it sometimes seems like they were written by a completely different (and better) person.  Slightly more naive, but also more idealistic and less cyclical.  It would be nice to blame others for my decline—perhaps I’ve gotten worn down by interacting with those commenters who are both insulting and moronic.  On the other hand my many brilliant commenters have probably raised my game a bit.

If 2012 was a bad year for TheMoneyIllusion.com in terms of style and sophistication, it was a good year for the ideas I am promoting.  Market monetarist themes (especially NGDPLT, but also the importance of aggressive monetary stimulus at the zero bound) are increasingly influential.  The zeitgeist is slowly moving in our direction.

Another “excuse” (or is it “explanation” I’ve never been clear on the distinction) is that I was overworked in 2012.  In the fall semester I taught an overload, and had to deal with a lot of travel and other outside obligations.  I suppose many people would be able to handle my workload with no problem, but I’ve lived for decades with a certain lifestyle, and then suddenly added in 40 or 50 extra hours a week of writing posts, answering comments and reading other posts and articles.  And I type everything with two fingers.

I hate the feeling of always being busy.  And since I’m not good at saying no, the work keeps piling up.  The good news is that I don’t have to teach in 2013 and thus will be less overworked.  My Depression book is scheduled to (finally!) be released later in the year, and I plan to use my sabbatical to turn my blog into a book.

PS.  One comment on prediction.  If it’s prestige you seek, then the key is not to be right, but rather to be perceived as being right.  Contrast Fukuyama’s 1989 prediction of a global move toward democracy and market economies, with Shiller’s 1996 prediction that stocks were overvalued.  Fukuyama was right and Shiller was wrong, but almost everyone thinks exactly the opposite.

If you seek success in the stock market, then you need to be correct (Keynes was wrong; it’s not a “beauty contest.”)  But if it’s social success you seek then the key is to feed the prejudices of your audience.  Each year you need to keep predicting the Chinese “bubble” will collapse.  Then when China eventually has a mild recession, everyone will forget your previous misses and hail you as a genius.

And always be a pessimist, as pessimism is the intellectually fashionable pose.  Being an optimist in an intellectual milieu is as jarring as wearing Doris Day pinks to an art show in Chelsea.

PPS.  Grouchy?  Wait until you see me discuss the fiscal cliff deal.



26 Responses to “Old anxiety (and a bit of auld lang syne-ity as well)”

  1. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    31. December 2012 at 21:35

    Scott, it’s good to know you will have more time for blogging, and perhaps even occasionally a chance to capture some of the feel of your earlier posts. 2013 is going to be a tough year for predictions of any kind, although one thing is for certain: it will not be boring! Here’s wishing continued success for Market Monetarism, and a Happy New Year to all.

  2. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    31. December 2012 at 21:39

    Exciting news about the book! Will you be doing anything special to promote it?

  3. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    31. December 2012 at 21:51

    Bah, don’t let insulters and morons get you down. Those who are right will win in the long run.

    Speaking of long runs and going down, if one prices GDP in gold, we’re at depression era (1931) output right now.

    More gold prices of things:

    Here’s the S&P 500 in gold.

    Here’s wages in gold.

    Here’s the 1-3 year treasury bond fund and the 20 year treasury bond fund in gold.

    Happy new year everybody!

  4. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    31. December 2012 at 21:54

    I think all bloggers both “burn out” a little bit, and then also start using verbal shorthand to express themselves after a few years.

    But most bloggers, even after several years, do come to life when there is an important event in their field, as Sumner does. I contend many Sumner posts have been excellent this year, spurred on by global monetary events.

    Yeah, tell me about being 57. There is some turning point when one thinks sometimes about retirement, rather than the next romantic or career conquest.

    OT but interesting: Okay we have a national monetary policy, and it might be too tight for some regions and too loose for other regions. Think about the ECB, or if we have a global central bank.

    Can fiscal policy be used to address these inevitable regional needs?

    Or, could a state like California print its own money somehow? Issue bus tokens? Issue more food stamps?

  5. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    31. December 2012 at 22:08

    Benjamin Cole, you wrote

    OT but interesting: Okay we have a national monetary policy, and it might be too tight for some regions and too loose for other regions.

    We can also ask that same question for capital. Given national monetary policy, is money too loose for long-term capital and too tight for short-term capital? Does monetary policy affect all capital equally? Interest rates tend to regulate where spending is allocated. If rates are low, relatively more spending will go to long term capital than short term capital. If rates are high, relatively more spending will go to short term capital than long term capital.

    Maybe within national economies, there is too loose of money for certain capital and too tight money for other capital, which has been trending in their respective directions for a long time, and that is why the economy continues to sag.

    In my estimation, we need relative more spending in the short term capital and relatively less spending in the long term capital, but the zero interest rate policy is preventing that.

    I think Bernanke needs to raise rates ASAP, regardless if it bankrupts the banks. Let them be taken over by new owners.

  6. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    31. December 2012 at 23:02

    “The posts are increasingly simplistic, repetitive, ”

    Babe Ruth was repetitive, too.

    “PPS. Grouchy? Wait until you see me discuss the fiscal cliff deal.”

    Looking forward to it. Krugman thinks that Obama conceded to the monopolist robots, so I’m looking forward to a different perspective.

  7. Gravatar of Lars Christensen Lars Christensen
    31. December 2012 at 23:57

    Cheer up Scott! Life is good.

    Regarding your old post. See what you wrote on December 31 2009:

    “This was a frustrating decade at times, and ended with me missing my flight home on the last day. But at least humanity had its best decade ever, at least if you believe economic development and peace makes people happier. So I guess I shouldn’t grumble”

    I guess you are naturally pessimistic…

  8. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. January 2013 at 01:35

    I’ve read many posts from all four years now, and I definitely feel that it’s the same guy blogging. And there have been a *lot* of quality posts this year – about fifty of them in my hard-drive collection.

    But two fingers? Seriously… do yourself a favor. Take a course. (You’ll be too old by the time voice recognition goes mainstream.)

    Happy New Year to all!!

  9. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. January 2013 at 01:45

    Meanwhile, here was Noah Smith’s New Year’s reaction: https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/286043015108251648

  10. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. January 2013 at 02:08

    From the old post Scott linked to:

    As sports fans know the most fun position to be in is the underdog challenging the evil empire. So that aspect of the blog has been kind on an enjoyable fantasy, even if on close inspection it’s all nonsense.

    And there’s this:

    I used to think I had just a few ideas, and once I used those up I’d have nothing more to say. As you’ve noticed (sometimes painfully) that is not my problem. I suppose it came from being a loner for several decades. As I weighed ideas in my mind I’d go from A to B to C, and then back to A. Even when I’d think of a different angle, I’d rarely write it down and therefore I would soon forget. Once I started blogging I realized I had more than three ideas, and even better, my interaction with commenters kept triggering new ways of thinking about the problem. It’s not that I have come up with any earthshaking ideas, but it allows me to keep refining the argument, continually probing at the issue from different angles. If you’d told me last year “write 1000 pages on monetary policy,” I would have recoiled in horror. I figured I’d do a couple dozen posts, run out of ideas, and then merely comment on current events. I had no idea that writing is thinking. But now here I am a year later, and my blog is 1000 pages of sprawling essays. Yes, there’s plenty of repetition, but even if you sliced out all the filler, I bet you could find a 200 page book in there somewhere.

    Scott, wouldn’t you say that writing this blog has made you smarter? Wasn’t that something?

  11. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. January 2013 at 02:20

    In fact the previous post was itself one of the best posts of the year…

  12. Gravatar of RPLong RPLong
    1. January 2013 at 06:23

    Whether to get involved in the comments is, in my opinion, a question of blogging style. I think Prof. Sumner’s writing style is better suited to the way Bryan Caplan and Alex Tabarrok blog. That is, they write what they have to say, and they read the comments, but they seldom participate in the comment discussion.

    When I first started reading this blog, in the earlier days, it was to find out what Scott Sumner was thinking about X situation. As time wears on, I find myself reading this blog more to find out what StatsGuy and Major Freedom are saying.

    Does StatsGuy have a blog, by the way? I would definitely read it if he did.

  13. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    1. January 2013 at 06:25

    I haven’t read all the early posts, but I’d imagine you get similar questions so you have to sometimes be repetetive. I thought the posts this year were excellent.

    I particularly liked the series of MOA vs. MOE posts and the series of posts about whether it matters who gets the new money first. I think my favorite was the one where you explained you wanted to stabilize 1/NGDP – it clarified a lot (I didn’t check if it was this year, but I think it was.)

    And on average you have the best commenters – I learn a lot from reading them.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. January 2013 at 07:36

    ChargerCarl, I’ll do as I am told by the publisher. Don’t know yet.

    Benjamin, I think a national currency works OK for the US, but not for Europe.

    Everyone, Thanks for the support and Happy New Year.

  15. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    1. January 2013 at 07:59

    Scott, I don’t think your blog has deteriorated, although maybe it is a bit repetitious. But that’s because the people you comment on keep making the same mistakes. It’s the nature of the game.

    Where your blog has gone downhill a bit is in the comments. A few extremely prolific commenters have become really tiresome. In a kind of Gresham’s Law, they drive out the better commenters. People like Woolsey, Beckworth, and Sadowski don’t comment nearly as often as they used to. I know I don’t, and it’s partly because anything I say is going to get lost in the torrent spewing from a few people who come here to proselytize rather than discuss.

    I would love to see a rule limiting the word count for any given commenter on a post to the number of words in the original post. If you want to be especially generous, add to that the number of words contained in any reply by you specifically addressed to that commenter.

    Then if someone wants to write multiple thousands of words on several posts a day, he can do so on his own blog and just post links to those screeds here. He will then attract the readership he deserves, rather than free riding on yours.

  16. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    1. January 2013 at 08:40

    “Slightly more naive, but also more idealistic and less cyclical.” Don’t glorify naiveté: *realism* (as in the present Sumner), rather than naiveté, is the real virtue.

    But, yes, you have (unfortunately) gotten grouchier. On the plus side, it’s been ages since you invoked embarrassing Richard Rorty-isms!

    I am eager to see how you will turn the blog into a book.

  17. Gravatar of Robert Easton Robert Easton
    1. January 2013 at 09:36

    Scott: Most popular bloggers do not bother reading all their comments, let alone replying to any of them. If you feel “worn down” by the comments, I think most of your readers would not be upset if you put a lot less effort into reading and replying to comments. Of course a vocal minority may feel differently on that! And making such a suggestion in a blog comment is clearly hypocritical.

    You worry your blog has become repetitive and simplistic and I think the bloggers you named blog on a much wider variety of topics typically than your one focus. But you do this too sometimes, writing about volcanoes in Iceland, living standards in China, “Two marshmallow personalities”, and neoliberalism (e.g. one of my all time favorite posts http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=368).

    I’ve been reading this blog from day 1 (or rather from the day Tyler Cowen linked to it about a week later) and still enjoy the monetary policy posts, but would love to read more of your opinions on just about everything else as well. Focusing on other topics might help you feel like you are out of the rut your blog may have got into.

  18. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    1. January 2013 at 10:28

    You type with two fingers? Seriously? With the volume of words you produce? Incredible!

    There’s a New Year’s resolution for you: learn to touch type. For most people starting out, the problem is that they don’t get enough practice. But you already type more than enough hours during the day. I bet if you started trying to touch type, the first week would be a challenge, and from then on you’d be more productive at the keyboard than you’ve been for your previous five decades.

    Oh: and stop responding to (so many) blog comments. It’s tremendously generous of you, and your public loves you for it … but that’s surely one of the least efficient uses of your time, in terms of productivity per unit effort. And it’s the biggest danger of putting you over the “burnout” threshold. If you enjoy it, that’s a different story. But if you feel that you “owe it” to your readers … you don’t.

  19. Gravatar of PCT PCT
    1. January 2013 at 14:40

    I have not noticed the quality of the posts going down. Perhaps that perception is due to their becoming closer to mainstream thinking. However, this is due to the mainstream moving in your direction, as a result of your Herculean efforts.

  20. Gravatar of Al Al
    1. January 2013 at 14:47

    Unless my memory is way off, the beauty contest analogy was meant to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Keynes hypothesized a market composed of speculators and speculative investors. Then he acknowledged the existence of long-term thesis oriented investors, but expressed skepticism of their significance due to listed disincentives.

    In looking at section VI of chapter 12 from “General Theory…”, Keynes seems to avoid claiming knowledge of the proportion of speculators to investors (using his broad categorization), apart from anedcdotal observations of American vs. English market participants.

  21. Gravatar of Tomasz Wegrzanowski Tomasz Wegrzanowski
    1. January 2013 at 18:48

    > And I type everything with two fingers.

    Learning to touch type would probably have orders of magnitude larger return on investment than just about anything else you could do.

    That’s time-saving equivalent of picking $100 bills off the sidewalk.

  22. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. January 2013 at 21:02

    Robert, I’m sure that sometimes Scott feels a bit like this: https://twitter.com/AvoidComments

  23. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    1. January 2013 at 21:23

    I am enormously grateful for your blogging efforts. On tone, the grind of persuasion is less flashy than the fun of exposition. In politics, the principle is that when you are completely sick of saying something over and over again, you are just starting to get through. So, be of good cheer and carry on :)

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. January 2013 at 08:27

    Jeff, I’m trying to limit word count, but I don’t know how and neither does my tech advisor. If anyone can tell me how to do it I’ll implement the word limit. Ideally I’d like a “below the fold” option so that long comments would still be there for anyone crazy enough to read MF.

    Everyone, Thanks for the wise advice and the support. Not only do I type with two fingers, but there are many words like ‘government’ that I misspell every time and have to correct. The misspelled version is now hardwired in to my fingers.

    Saturos, That’s very funny.

    Philo, Thanks for reminding me that it’s time to invoke Rorty again. :)

  25. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    2. January 2013 at 18:50

    Happy new year Scott, a bit late. I really appreciate the blog, I have learned a lot. I support the comment about thinking by writing. How often have I started to write a comment explaining my first reaction to a post and then realize when I have written it that I was wrong or not accounting for an important factor.

    I think your writing has actually become clearer and more focused since I started following you. The insight for me this year was that all we have to compare NGDP to other possible monetary policy regimes not in absolute terms. Clearly NGDP targetting wins over inflation targeting or gold linking, and so wins, and that really all there is to it. We don’t have to show that NGDP targeting leads to world wide peace, end to famine and so on. I know I am slow…..

    Actually I like the ecosystem you have developed with the perma-commentators you have. Even the most inane comments are helpful I find in my thinking. So please tolerate them.

    On blogging going forward, it seems like you are realizing that you are going to keeping thinking so why waste that analysis? So we can look forward to more blogging which is great.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. January 2013 at 11:34

    Thanks ChrisA.

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