From “Brexit” to U.S. presidential candidates talking about immigration, from the latest job reports to the latest dip in oil prices, every event that makes headline carries an economic impact, and a blog co-authored by a UW-Madison professor analyzes and contextualizes these newsworthy happenings.
Since 2005, Menzie Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics, has contributed to Econbrowser, a blog started by James Hamilton at the University of California-San Diego to share research findings in real time and improve dialogue between academics, policymakers and people outside the field of economics.
“I know that we have readers in policy institutions such as the IMF, the Fed and other central banks,” Chinn says. “Journalists — primarily those in the financial sector — are also readers of our work.” The Economist, Reuters, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal have all picked up Econbrowser posts, he adds.
Over the years, Econbrowser, which also publishes a Chinese version, has garnered attention and accolades. Time named it one of the 25 best financial blogs in 2011, the Wall Street Journal highlighted it among the top economics blogs in 2009 and 2010 and Bloomberg View included it on the list of the “Econ Blogs You Need to Read” last year. Most recently, the Intelligent Economist ranked Econbrowser as one of the top 100 economics blogs of 2016.
Chinn’s motivation for contributing to Econbrowser has been to share his own research and comment on a wide range of macroeconomic issues, drawing not only from his work at UW but also from policy perspective he gained while working as a senior economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 2000 to 2001.
Blogging has drawn Chinn into some interesting topics. One of the most interesting, he says, was the magnitude of the impact of government spending and taxation on growth over the short to medium term.
“While this is a question that has long been studied, the onset of the Great Recession in 2008 spurred an intellectual (and policy) debate of unexpected fervor,” Chinn says. “Like most economists, I’d thought there was wide agreement that increases in government spending during deep downturns would serve to stimulate the economy. Little did I know there were actually large segments of the economics profession and the policy community that did not agree. The outcome was that the stimulus we implemented in the US was too small; the impact abroad was even more damaging.”
Blogging has also impacted Chinn’s offline work. Exchanges on Econbrowser led him to co-author a book on the global financial crisis with Jeffry Frieden of Harvard. And over time, he and Hamilton have gained appreciation for the power the blog can hold.
“I have considered part of my role as blogger as a means of influencing policy, and I believe both of us feel our writings on Econbrowser have had an impact in that arena,” he says. “In addition, both of us take our role as educator seriously, and we have tried to elevate the general level of economic discourse.”
Chinn teaches undergraduate courses on macroeconomics as well as money, finance and banking topics in the Department of Economics and master’s-level courses on international economics at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He sometimes includes blog posts, particularly those that display data, in his lectures and also assigns relevant posts for his students to read.
“There’s a lot of synergy between blogging, teaching and research,” he says. “Many of the posts I write refer to issues the students should be paying attention to.”