2011: The Rise of the E-conomist

Economists are often perceived to be stodgy types, the sort of dismal fellows who prophesize doom and gloom with regularity. What else could be expected about those who spend their careers focusing on various methods and means to discuss scarcity? However, the internet has provided an outlet for those who are attempting to break from the mould. Sites like Freakonomics and Economists do it with Models as well as the various blogs being written by some of the bigger names in economics have represented an attempt to reach out to common people using common language to explain what are often complicated topics. Does this signal the trend of a new kind of economist? In keeping with the spirit of the post (as well as our ongoing desire to be the first to coin some word of consequence in the 'new economy' world) let's call them e-conomists.

I think that there is a pretty compelling argument that economics is becoming more generally accessible due to the reach and breadth of internet resources. I also believe that some of today's top economists are doing a much better job than their predecessors of using regular language to explain economic principles. However, these factors alone are not the only, or even the best, evidence that e-conomics is becoming a developed area of the discipline; oftentimes they are simply examples of a new medium and slightly easier-to-understand language being used to explain the same old concepts

Rather, to the extent that a new breed of scholars, so-called e-conomists, are arriving on the scene, I would point to other two specific phenomena as support. First is the current trend by which serious economists are using not only common language to describe subjects of analysis, but are using this plain speak to analyze interesting things. Secondly, I would say that the idea that we are heading toward an e-conomist world is supported by the phenomenon we have recently noted where economists are using web resources to actually do their research.

On the former phenomenon, this can easily be described as a Freakonomics type of development. In the book, and subsequent blog of the same name, the authors look at interesting topics through the lens of economic analysis and describe what they find in easy-to-understand terms. This research and discussion of topics such as baby-naming and the impact of abortions of crime rates have placed Messrs. Dubner and Levitt, wittingly or not, among the biggest proponents of e-conomics. In writing a New York Times bestselling book, they managed to bring economic concepts to the masses using topics most readers would understand and which were compelling enough to keep their interest, no mean feat in a wired world. This torch continues to be carried by Dubner and Levitt and has been picked up by others, such as Jodi Beggs at the aforementioned site Economists Do It With Models.

As for the second phenomenon, this is best represented by folks like those at the Bank of England who are using search trend data from Google to analyze employment trends. It is almost inconceivable that such a tool would have been utilized by any serious member of the profession even four or five years ago. Yet now, individuals within the organization responsible for both printing one of the globe's major currencies and guiding the monetary policy of the entire United Kingdom are doing so.

It seems that in 2011 (as well as in the few years preceeding) we are truly seeing the rise of a new generation of economists. The prototype is unafraid to express himself to members of the public, analyzing topics they care about in words and terms they can readily understand. She is not only comfortable using the web as a tool for dissemination, but as a tool to gather information, using the myriad data of very powerful, but very accessible tools to note the trends of the day. It can only be a good thing for both the usefulness and the image of what has widely been known as a stodgy profession that this is so.

ED. NOTE: Late again...the term e-conomist is already in circulation. Maybe next time...

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