. . . back from the AEA meetings

I attended an interesting session on blogging at the recent AEA meetings in Chicago.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has some comments:

“The virtue of blogs is that they’re living, real-time, and they respond to what’s happening in the real world,” said Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who is co-author of the book Freakonomics and of a blog of the same name. He was one of several scholars who joined a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association on the topic of using blogs to teach undergraduate economics.

The role of economics blogs started changing noticeably around 2008, said Alex Tabarrok, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University. Before then, blogs were expected to be clever and entertaining, and little else.

But the financial crisis demanded a response from economists. It sparked debate among scholars about which principles should be applied and to what extent, and which should be re-examined or scuttled. Familiar intellectual forums, like disciplinary meetings and the back-and-forth of scholarly publications, proved too slow to keep up, the speakers said.

Since then, economics blogs have become spaces for heated debates about monetary policy, taxation, and regulation, among other issues. Among the most influential are those of N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University, Paul Krugman of Princeton University, Scott B. Sumner of Bentley University, and J. Bradford DeLong of the University of California at Berkeley.

Now debates that once took place in conferences or classrooms are carried out publicly and can be preserved and indexed. And, because of the conventions of blogging, economists’ thoughts are expressed in far more accessible prose than is typically found in scholarly journals. “I find it amazing,” said Gail Hoyt of the University of Kentucky, “that I can get the unfiltered views of some of our most important thinkers.”

This informality can be a liability, said Mr. Levitt. Blogs are not always well-written, carefully reasoned, or fleshed out.

But even morsels of thought can still add up to something intellectually valuable, said Mr. Tabarrok, because readers can follow an ongoing dialogue and deepen their understanding through repeated visits. Economics blogs are, he said, “dim sum for the mind.”

What’s with the middle initial “B”?

Alex also said that “blogging is the return of political economy.”  I recall that journal articles back in the 1920s and 1930s were often little more than a discussion of current events, like the Great Depression.  Journals don’t do that anymore, but blogging does.

I haven’t done any posting for a while, but am starting to go back through the comment sections.  I’ll try to get caught up on all comments later today.

A few comments on my trip:

1. I presented a paper on the Great Depression at a session with Michael Bordo and Dough Irwin.

2.  I was looking forward to seeing Paul Krugman for the first time in my life, but they put his session on the liquidity trap in the smallest room in the hotel.  The line snaked out the door, and thus I still haven’t ever seen him (but have heard the sound of his voice.)

3.  Chicago seems to have changed a lot since I was there in the 1970s.  My impression walking around downtown was that the number of Asians had increased and the number of African-Americans had decreased.  I don’t know if that matches the census data.  The city seemed much richer and cleaner–lots of new construction.  I’m an architecture buff and took an architectural tour of the south loop.  Many of the old buildings by Sullivan/Burnham/Root, etc have been beautifully restored.  The white terra cotta surfaces were still covered in grime during the 1970s.  Indeed the main reason I went to Chicago was not to attend the conference (I don’t like economics conferences) but rather to stay in the Burnham Hotel, which is arguably the first glass skyscraper in the world.  The room rate of $135 was far lower than a similar boutique in NYC would charge.  Sad to see the old Marshall Fields is gone.  Economic inefficiencies can add charm to life, and the old Marshall Fields certainly had them.  In 1980s someone walked into the silverware department and bought an old set in a dusty box on the top shelf, then walked a few blocks and sold it at a profit for scrap.  (Silver had just soared from $2 to $50 an ounce.)  They even had a rare coin department.

Seeing all the young people walking around Chicago made me feel depressed.  It made me realize that the (gritty) Chicago of 1978 and the (idealistic) Scott Sumner of 1978 are dead and gone.

I also saw a film at the nearby Gene Siskel film center, which was a very nice venue.  Someone asked for my 2011 film list.  Because of blogging I haven’t been able to keep up with films this year, at least to the extent I used to.  Below the fold I include a list of films I saw at the theater (some old.)  I rarely watch films on TV. Please don’t see these films on my recommendation.  Most people won’t like the top three–I have weird taste.

Uncle Boonmee Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai) 3.9 Apichatpong Weerasethakul might be the best director in the world today. It’s a tragedy that few will see this on the big screen, where the visuals/sound/atmospherics are so impressive. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.

Poetry (Korean) 3.8 Another great movie by Lee Chang-Dong, director of Secret Sunshine. Like some other great directors (and unlike Hollywood) his movies are partly defined by what they choose not to show. Great use of sunlight. I’m sure I’d get lots more out of it on a second viewing.

Melancholia (Danish/English) 3.7 From the opening image you know you are in the hands of a master filmmaker. The only thing that keeps him from being universally recognized as a great director is that his subject matter doesn’t make people feel “comfy.” Completely unrealistic and yet utterly authentic.

Update: Lars Christensen is now my hero.  He appeared in the second best black comedy ever made–Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom.  (I’m referring to part 1, part 2 is not as good.)  Two Great Danes named Lars.

HaHaHa (aka Summer/Summer/Summer) (Korean) 3.5 Song’s films are reminiscent of all those French films about young people adrift in and out of relationships. I’m not sure if it’s the Korean setting that makes them seem fresh, or his skill as a director.

Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff (British) 3.5 A must see film for fans of “Black Narcissus.” I wish I could have lived his life instead of mine.

City of Life and Death (China) 3.5 The rape of Nanjing.

Incendies (Canadian) 3.5 A very powerful look at the Lebanese civil war. Does a lot of things well, but doesn’t really excel in any single category””except perhaps acting.

Hugo (U.S.) 3.4 Scorcese is certainly a film enthusiast, and was also a major presence in Cameraman. This film is a love letter to the early cinema. The film doesn’t have any obvious flaws, but the overall impression is a bit disappointing. Even with all the high tech effects, he wasn’t quite able to capture the magic of early films like Metropolis. I still don’t see any evidence that 3-D adds much to films””indeed it might detract by dulling one’s imagination. It still seems like a stunt.

Drive (U.S.) 3.3 A very well made thriller. The director understands that images are often much more powerful than words. Albert Brooks in a surprisingly effective supporting role as a killer.

Deep End (British) 3.3 An old British film by a Polish director. Reminds me of Peeping Tom, although not as good.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (British) 3.3 Well made British spy film, with some very fine acting.  A bit of a disappointment after Let the Right One In.

The Robber (Austrian) 3.2 Interesting film based on a true story of a marathon runner who robbed banks. Stylistically reminiscent of many films of the 1950s and 1960s, which makes it seem derivative at times.

The Tree of Life (US) 3.2 Worth seeing, but I found it much less impressive than some of the critics suggested. The visuals were nice, but not visionary as in the Tarkovsky and Kubrick films that influenced Malick. Did a great job of capturing the feel of childhood.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (US) 3.2 This 1976 film really looks dated. As I watched I kept thinking about how much more interesting a failure like this was than a success like Midnight in Paris.

The Housemaid (Korean) 3.2 Like many Korean films, it’s a movie that loves extremes. It’s interesting seeing Western culture symbolizing decadence and evil. Korea’s quite nationalistic.

Cold Weather (US) 3.1 An independent film that is ostensibly a detective story, but is actually a sly comedy about slackers.

Little Rock (US) 3.1 Another slacker film where Japan meets small town America. A bit like Jim Jarmusch, but with a slightly more serious feel.

The Strange Case of Angelica (Portuguese) 3.1 Charming at times, but in the end he doesn’t quite pull it off. The director (Oliviera) is 102 years old. Time to retire?

Midnight in Paris (US) 3.0 Another entertaining and completely forgettable film from Woody Allen.

Moneyball (US) 3.0 Brad Pitt is always worth watching, and it was interesting to see a film where “statistics” was the hero. But given that I’m both a Bill James fan and a Brad Pitt fan, I expected to enjoy it more.

Battleship Potemkin (Russian) 3.0 Thrilling visual images, corny dialog, overacting, simplistic message and a really big ship. No, it wasn’t Titanic, it was a “film classic.” Didn’t Eisenstein steal that baby carriage sequence from Brian DePalma?

Nostalgia for the Light (Chile) 2.8 Well-intentioned film that overreaches.

Mission Impossible 4 (US) 2.5 Nothing more than a way to pass time.

Summer Wars (Japan) 2.5 Disappointing anime by the director who did The Girl Who Leap Through Time.

The Ides of March (US) 1.5 Mediocre Hollywood film on politics. No sense at all about how politics actually work in this country. The Morris candidate never would have gotten anywhere. Implausible personality changes partway through the film.

PS.  Colin Marshall has some good quotes from the Korean director Song:

I went through puberty clinging onto ideals such as absolute truth, perfect world, absolute purity, etc. Everything I had encountered in life was automatically compared against an ideal value. I failed to comprehend things in life that couldn’t be incorporated into that ideal system. So, my life became fraught with schizophrenia asking why reality cannot easily converge with these beautiful ideals. Only when I reached my 20s did I fortunately begin to see the falsehood behind those ideals and began to better appreciate life, that is, as it is. Characters in my movies reflect such experiences. Specific characters chase after clichéd ideals, or even get chased by them, but I want my gaze on these characters to be composed from visions that are free from these clichés. To those characters, the conflict between ideals and life that veer away from these ideals is very painful. I want to say that all these pains are actually unnecessary. It’s the ideals that are the essence of the problem, not life itself. . . .

There are men who feel that only with women can they feel an absolute sense of connection. I think it’s a good experience to go through that absolute kind of connectivity, be it one hour or a year. However, that very subjective experience may not be enough considering that our lifespan is longer than one hour or a year. The rest of time is too long. And so they fall in front of women continuously. But men haven’t defined what life is. Maybe it’s because whatever can be defined, it is bullshit.



16 Responses to “. . . back from the AEA meetings”

  1. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    9. January 2012 at 10:20

    This was a fun post to read Scott. Congratulations on getting your name up there with Mankiw, DeLong and Krugman! Bentley ought to give you a raise — you’re the only reason I, and probably many others, have ever heard of it (and I went to school in New England too).

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. January 2012 at 10:28

    Thanks Johnleemk.

  3. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    9. January 2012 at 10:37

    Chicago (city proper) asian population increased from 4.3% to 5.5% from 2000 to 2010, which was probably an extension of a trend from 1980. Fairly sharp 10 year jump (based on census tables, 2010 still estimated), so your impression is probably correct. The population of the city declined 7% in last 10 years tho, even as Ill. pop increased, so that’s a big deal.

    “Journals don’t do that anymore, but blogging does.”

    The real question is whether the incentive structure in academia will follow – blogging creates a venue for competition in a realm where it is otherwise limited. The journal scene desperately needs that competition. Currently, tenured faculty define their own reward structure.

    Wouldn’t it be great to see tenure decisions based on blog hits/citations/reviews? Of course, existing and soon-to-be tenured faculty will fight that tooth and nail. Otherwise, the incentives for young/talented faculty are to publish, get tenure, then get bonuses for selling the reputation of their university to the highest bidder (vis a vis Morgan’s link).

  4. Gravatar of John hall John hall
    9. January 2012 at 10:48

    I feel like you made that comment about Summer Wars before. I liked it, but you’re right that the Girt who Leapt Through Time was way better.

  5. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    9. January 2012 at 11:19

    The idealistic Scott Sumner is dead and gone? I’m not so sure. This blog seems to be a testament to the contrary.

  6. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    9. January 2012 at 11:39

    Tyler Cowen posts an enthusiastically commented post on bias in economics papers…


    His argument is somewhat hard to argue against – those papers _maybe_ could be correct.

    Yes, that is certainly true, or _maybe_ there could be capture. So, perhaps TC could suggest a test to determine if that is in fact true? Here we have a profession that has spend FORTY years devising tests to show capture in the federal sector, but the argument against capture in academia is “maybe”???

    Certainly economics is the one profession that is immune from capture by powerful financial interests. SURELY.

    IMHO, the economics profession is responding rationally to market incentives – the market value of economics papers and advice has plummetted in the last 3 years (in terms of public trust). Like any profit maximizing firm, the profession is acting rationally to preserve its market value – and the profession seems to believe that the only way to preserve that value is to engage a code of ethics…

    Private sector organizations – like the CFA institute – did this decades ago… So let me make this point – the fact that the economics profession is concerned enough about its reputation that it’s willing to self-regulate (without any threat of govt. regulation) is itself prima facie evidence that there is in fact a problem.

    Anyway, wonder what your take on this is after the AEA…

  7. Gravatar of Rob Rob
    9. January 2012 at 12:02

    I’m generally a lurker, not a commenter, but having grown up all my 30 years in and near Chicago, I agree with your general instincts.

    If my memory serves me right: the 200k in population loss represented neither a net gain nor loss for whites, a slight net gain for Asians and hispanics, and a huge net loss for African Americans.

    While I can say Chinatown is richer and larger than it was in the 1990’s, I don’t have any observations regarding historically black neighborhoods on the south side. I assumed the migration was partially to the south suburbs and south exurbs (and possibly even relatively black metros like Atlanta).

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    9. January 2012 at 12:54

    Scott Sumner and I must share a common ancestor. My exact thoughts on Chicago (I am also Scott’s age of 55) on my once-a-decade visits there, and I am also an architecture buff (in fact did PR for four years for some very good architects).

    And through professional and amateur routes, we are now both Market Monetarists….

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    9. January 2012 at 12:57

    BTW, there are large sections of the Los Angeles region that were black or white (racially) 30-40 years ago that are now brown and yellow (with whites mixed in). Of course, in younger generations, intermarriage is common.

    Many blacks have migrated inland.

  10. Gravatar of CA CA
    9. January 2012 at 13:56

    I recently watched The Housemaid,and thought it was ok. I’m frequently put-off by the way many foreign directors choose to film sex scenes. I think they show too much, and unnecessarily push the envelope too far. I dislike the American director Darren Aronofsky for the exact same reasons.

    Or maybe I’m just a prudish puritanical American:)

  11. Gravatar of Scott Sumner on Lars von Trier « The Market Monetarist Scott Sumner on Lars von Trier « The Market Monetarist
    9. January 2012 at 14:05

    […] Here is what Scott has to say about it: […]

  12. Gravatar of ChacoKevy ChacoKevy
    9. January 2012 at 14:56

    @Stats: Commuter rail contributed greatly to Chicago flight. Metra rail has one line that actually takes you up to Kenosha, WI. A second line will take you to Antioch, right at the WI border. This is why the “Chicago Land Area” is one of the vaguest things to describe.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. January 2012 at 18:07

    statsguy, Thanks for that info–I agree about tenure.

    John, Yes, I think I had a partial list this summer.

    Josh, I feel like the person who attended the UC is dead, but then I guess I assumed everyone my age felt that way about their younger self. Perhaps not.

    Elsewhere I’ve argued that personal identity is an illusion.

    Statsguy, I don’t really know enough about my fellow economists to comment. Most of us at Bentley just live off salaries (including me), so I find it hard to picture corruption. On the other hand it would explain an awful lot . . .

    I doubt the code of ethics would help much, but I’ll keep an open mind on the topic. Personally, I have no objection to revealing conflicts of interest, because I don’t have any (that meet the threshold of $10,000.) This blog has some ads, but I never pay attention and couldn’t even tell you which companies.

    Rob, Good to know my impression was roughly accurate.

    Ben, I’ll be out there in just 5 1/2 years. BTW, I’m now 56.

    CA, Somewhere on the internet you can find an earlier version of The Housemaid. It’s a better film, and no graphic sex.

    Personally, violence bothers me more.

    ChacoKevy, Yes, it’s really 4 cities in one. The lakeshore, the low rise city, the older suburbs and the newer exurbs.

  14. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    10. January 2012 at 09:47


    There isn’t much of that old Chicago you knew, but some of it still exists. There is a block of Clark st south of Van Buren with a liquor store, a pawn shop, and a men’s only hotel.

    I’ve read similar reactions to the changes in New York city since the 70s.

    Also I believe Marshall Fields is still there on State but was rebranded Macy’s. Don’t know how important the signage is.

    You can see on google maps and whatnot that much of the south side is depopulated. Whole neighborhoods have been torn down and are empty fields. I once drove around south of U of C a few years ago in a visit and found much emptiness.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. January 2012 at 13:12

    Thanks Benny, It’s now a very different store.

  16. Gravatar of Why did the A’s stop winning? Scott has the answer « The Market Monetarist Why did the A’s stop winning? Scott has the answer « The Market Monetarist
    23. February 2012 at 13:18

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