The best economics and finance blogs

Which blogs will I be reading in the year ahead? Look at my blogroll (right) is the short answer. A slightly longer answer is below.

But why read blogs at all? One reason, as a blogger explained recently, is to fact-check the news. “The top independent experts in every field – economics, business, foreign affairs, military, science, energy, etc – have their own blogs,” he says, “making blogs one of the best sources of information, a good way to fact-check the mainstream news, and the best way to read the experts’ insights direct and unfiltered.” In an age when myths are increasingly widely (and dangerously) believed, this is a vital role. Blogs also provide context – and entertainment: the best ones will have you going back regularly for more.

It’s wise to to choose your blogs carefully though. In the economics and finance blogosphere, which I fish in regularly as part of my day job as well as for general interest, many of the blogs suffer from the same faults as the form in general – too ranty, too narrowly political, too detached from facts and unbalanced in forming opinions; or, at the other extreme, too technical, too academic, drowning in charts and speaking in maths. The best blogs, on the other hand, are well informed but concise, clearly written and accessible, informative, regularly updated, and although opinionated, are at least either entertainingly and thought-provokingly so, or minimally dogmatic.

In short, it is more important that a blog be interesting than right, as Chris Dillow, an economist with Investors Chronicle, argues. And his own blog is a perfect example of the form, providing economic analysis from a leftish perspective. Similarly good blogs, from a decidedly unleftist perspective, are provided by the Adam Smith Institute, and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Less concise and sometimes waffly, but worth delving into nevertheless, are Noahpinion, the blog of Noah Smith, a finance professor who is “hard at work on solving all the problems of the world” and doing a good job of entertaining us while he’s doing it; Coppola Comment, the blog of Frances Coppola, a self-described amateur economics enthusiast and emigrant from the finance industry; and Not The Treasury View, from Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The easiest single way into the finance and economics blogosphere, though, is through the Economics Roundtable. Most of the blogs mentioned here and on my blogroll, and very many more besides, appear here as they are updated.

The financial crisis has also seen a shallow revival in the fortunes of the ideas of Marx, as one critic has put it, but most commentary on this in the financial press and from sympathetic analysts does not get beyond a few combative (and probably mostly wrong) comments in Marx’s propaganda pamphlet, the Communist Manifesto. If you’d like to delve deeper into his more developed ideas on crisis, and the subsequent debates both within Marxism and between Marxism and other schools, the Critique of Crisis Theory blog is a good place to start. Michael Roberts is also worth reading, though his pieces are often wearyingly long.

Many of the best blogs, however, perhaps unsurprisingly, still come from traditional news organisations. Writing a decent blog is really a full-time job, and those of us who already have one of those will struggle to compete with the experts (for fact-checking the news) or the professionals (who write it). My favourites are Felix Salmon at Reuters, Paul Krugman at The New York Times, the FT’s Alphaville blog, Free Exchange and the other blogs at The Economist, and Robert Peston, Paul Mason and Stephanie Flanders at the BBC.

And finally… this blog will be limping along very slowly this year, if not exactly dying completely. But what I’d like to do, if I get the time or when the inspiration descends, is reread and write some extended commentary on this book (a first attempt of mine is here).* As this review says, all criticisms of capitalism fail unless some feasible alternative is proposed that can do better. This isn’t quite true – perhaps criticisms of capitalism can make us do capitalism better or more fairly or more in keeping with its essential nature; perhaps we can come up with a feasible alternative that is worse economically speaking, but better humanly speaking – but it’s an argument that all socialists inevitably have to face. Part of my day job involves reading all these (often pro-capitalist, pro-market, right-wing) economics blogs and understanding them. Understanding inevitably brings a certain sympathy – and challenges old assumptions. I hope, through rereading and reviewing this book, to explore these issues further over the year.

Regular followers of this blog, and my previous ones, will be swallowing that last promise of blogs to come with a large pinch of salt, but I’ll do my best. Stay tuned (follow me on Twitter @BigchiefBlog).

* Well, I read it. As the author says, he presents a strong argument, if not exactly a proof, against the feasibility of non-market socialism and against Marxism and for free markets. Essential reading. And that will have to do for now in lieu of any “extended commentary”.

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