New at VoxEU: The Blogs&Reviews page

Richard Baldwin 28 May 2018

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I founded VoxEU.org in June 2007 with the aim of enriching the economic policy debate in Europe and beyond. On the supply side, the idea was to make it easier for serious researchers to contribute to the public debate. On the demand side, the idea was to make the knowledge of researchers more accessible to public and private decision makers, as well as to users of economic research in governments, international organisations, academia and journalism. 

Today, VoxEU.org is adding a new vehicle with the Blogs&Reviews page. Vox’s popularity has been propelled by world-class economists writing research-based policy analysis and commentary on the most pressing economic policy topics. Thousands of economists have published columns on VoxEU, including many Nobel Prize winners. This supply has been abundantly met with a surging demand for more sophisticated, more research-based analysis than was available in newspapers and on blogs. VoxEU is now the unquestioned global leader in the public dissemination of economic research. It gets about a half a million pageviews per month and attracts between 200,000 and 300,000 readers monthly from over a hundred nations. 

Vox columns are twice as long as the average newspaper opinion piece, but far shorter and more accessible than discussion papers and journal articles. They are also very much more structured and generally more research-based than the old-style blogs that were popular in the 2000s.

The writers of Vox columns are researchers (mostly economists, but not exclusively), and most columns are research-based (some are commentary based more generally on the researcher’s experience and knowledge). The topics cover the full range of economic policy and political economy topics. 

New formats and dissemination vehicles

Since the beginning, VoxEU has innovated with new formats and dissemination vehicles. CEPR Policy Insights were introduced in 2007 to allow researchers to contribute longer, more detailed contributions to public policy debate and 92 have been published to date. At the height of the Global Crisis, the now well-known VoxEU eBook format was introduced with an eBook that appeared ten days after the Lehman Brothers collapse (its main recommendation was to save the banks). VoxEU eBooks aim to be “the right people writing on the right topic at the right time”. The eBooks are essentially collections of 10 to 15 VoxEU columns that are all focused on a clear theme and the authors tend to be well-established figures in the profession. Subsequently, the VoxEU eReport was introduced. This allowed economists specialised in more focused areas and writing on more specialised topics to contribute to the debate. eReports are intended to have a more lasting contribution than eBooks; they can be thought of as a collection of Policy Insights in that the chapters tend to be longer and more in depth. 

During the Global Crisis, Vox introduced Vox Debates, which collected Vox columns on a particular issue as well as self-posted commentaries by economists. This had its ups and downs as a vehicle but has recently experienced a florescence with the current debate on euro area reform (this is led by Debate Moderators Jean Pisani-Ferry and Jeromin Zettlemeyer).

The world has changed: Short, more informal, more frequent

The world of policy-relevant economic research has not stayed still over the years. Very few of the old-style ‘clip and comment’ blogs are still active. 

  • On the short and furious end, they have been squeezed by Twitter. 
  • On the long, serious end, they have been squeezed by Vox columns and the many Vox-like website that post ‘blogs’. 

These blogs (such as the Bank of England’s ‘Bank Underground’, or the World Bank development blogs) are nothing like the original (short and frequent) blogs of yesteryear. They much more closely resemble the 1,500-word Vox style and usually aim at disseminating a single paper recently written by the authors. 

The instinct that led policy-relevant economists to write the old clip-and-comment blogs has been diverted into two new formats – one much longer and one much shorter. 

  • First are personal web pages maintained by very serious scholars who, for a variety of reasons, have developed a passion for writing high-quality, incisive essays on topics of current interest. 

These ‘blogs’, which are usually themed (for example, Mainly Macro), have been very much to the benefit of the public debate on economic issues. 

The problem, however, is that such pages are beyond most economists. They take a great deal of time and writing skill—things that are in short supply among many of our most influential, policy-relevant economists. Moreover, even the most popular are not receiving the visibility they deserve due to the lack of agglomeration economies of scale. 

  • The second format is Twitter posts.

A sizeable number of policy-relevant economists have started tweeting commentary on current events. The style is much more in line with the old-fashioned clip-and-comment blog posts. The economist sees something that deserves a reaction, clips it out by retweeting it, and comments on it by adding a comment to the retweet. 

We also see longer, more purposeful posts (called ‘threads’) where economists attempt to explain issues like how tariffs can’t correct the US trade deficit, or draw attention to research that informs or corrects common misunderstandings. The recent increase in the number of characters allowed in tweets, and the feature that makes creating threads easy, have greatly increased this ‘micro-blogging’ use of Tweets. Paul Krugman has recently made very effective use of this approach to Twitter.

Why “Vox Blogs&Reviews”?

My idea in launching this new feature is to encourage a much wider range of economists to get into the business of commenting on public policy issues based on their general, research-based knowledge and experience. The essays on this page are far more ‘free form’ than Vox columns. They can be shorter or longer, more technical or more informal. 

I will start with a set of established bloggers to help boost their impact, and build an audience for this intermediate style of economic writing. The hope is that the availability of a broad audience will entice many more leading economists to occasional write an op-ed-like essay on a topic they really care about. Quite simply, it’s a pooling thing, or an agglomeration thing. If lots of great economists contribute blogs and book reviews occasionally, the result will be a page that has important essays every day. And that, in turn, will keep VoxEU readers coming back for more.

Why it is important

The world of economic policy commentary has, at least in the US and UK, been muddied by fake facts and shameless charlatans. It is important that the real economists from all schools of thought contribute to the public discourse. Without serious commentary available, journalists and web-based publications tend to echo the words of the fake-fact charlatans. We as a profession need to do better by writing on policy. Vox Blogs&Reviews is a new vehicle that should make it easier to get a big audience for such writings.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research

Tags:  VoxEU, blogs, book reviews

Professor of International Economics at The Graduate Institute, Geneva; Founder & Editor-in-Chief of VoxEU.org; exPresident of CEPR

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