Wednesday, February 4, 2015

1,000 Conversable Posts

As a one-person blogging operation bobbing along in the oceanic vastness of the internet, every little once in awhile I feel a need to commemorate my own efforts. It's a little pathetic, I suppose, like throwing yourself a birthday party. But it beats not having a birthday party at all. This week, the total number of posts on this "Conversable Economist" blog since its beginning in May 2011 has now exceeded 1,000.

I understand, of course, that 1,000 posts is only significant because it's a round number for a species with 10 fingers. If humans counted in base 9, then I would have passed the round number of 1,000 in base nine (which would be nine cubed or 729 as written in base 10) more than a year ago.  I have a friend who points out that if you use your fingers as binary up-or-down digits, you can then use your two hands to count up to a 10-digit number in base 2, and 1,111,111,111 in base 2 is 1,023 in base 10. In a few weeks, I can celebrate that landmark number next. (Yes, my friends and I are a good time crew, no doubt about it.)

As the number of posts on this blog heads into four digits (in base 10), I find myself mulling several questions. Readers of this blog, especially those who check in on a semi-regular basis, are welcome if so moved to send feedback to me at

1) Should my posts on average be shorter? 

A typical length for one my posts is about 1,000 words of text, and often a few figures or tables as well. Thus, those of you who have been following me over the years may now have read about a million words from me. Sure, a certain proportion of that total is made up of quotations sliced from articles that I am discussing.  My point is that compared to many blogs, the posts here are relatively long. I have mixed feeling here. There's an old line, apparently dating back to Blaise Pascal, that a piece of writing is long because the author lacked time to make it shorter. For me, it's paradoxically true that writing shorter posts would probably take me longer. In addition, part of my reason for doing the blog is to extend my memory by saving quotations and figures and tables from stuff I read so that I can find them later. However, I could maybe put up some much shorter posts, like just a link to a study or a single figure or a quick quotation.

2) Should I post more often? 

My answer is "no," because of that nasty constraint of 168 hours per week that plagues us all. This blog is an unpaid hobby, and with family, paid work, and the rest of that thing called "having a life," I'm already pushing the limits to how much time I can reasonably put into the blog.

3) Should I post less often? 

I've been posting about five times a week, typically on weekdays. Is my "hit rate" of interesting posts high enough to justify this volume? Or should I drop down to 3-4 posts per week?

4) Should I shift the focus of the blog more toward my own opinions and analysis? 

 The usual approach of this blog is to discuss a report or research paper that I've read. My opinions about what issues are interesting and what facts and analysis are persuasive are of course implicit in my choice of material. But I often let the report or research paper that I'm discussing do most of the talking. My explanation for this approach appears on my FAQs page:
The word “conversable” was suggested to me by the Scottish philosopher/economist David Hume, in his 1742 piece “Of Essay Writing.” In that essay, Hume laments the separation of the “learned” and the “conversable” world. Hume wrote:
“The separation of the learned from the conversable world seems to have been the great defect of the last age, and must have had a very bad influence both on books and company: for what possibility is there of finding topics of conversation fit for the entertainment of rational creatures, without having recourse sometimes to history, poetry, politics, and the more obvious principles, at least, of philosophy? Must our whole discourse be a continued series of gossiping stories and idle remarks?” Hume concludes: “I cannot but consider myself as a kind of resident or ambassador from the dominions of learning to those of conversation, and shall think it my constant duty to promote a good correspondence betwixt these two states, which have so great a dependence on each other.”
In Hume’s spirit, I will attempt to serve as an ambassador from my world of economics, and help in "finding topics of conversation fit for the entertainment of rational creatures."
My usual belief is that passing along facts and analysis is a more useful social function than whether I feel a need to emote. To put it another way, I do not view this blog as an exercise in personal psychotherapy. After all, whether readers agree with me or even have a clear sense of what I  believe doesn't seem all that important. It's not like I'm running for office. Whether readers agree with my opinions or not, the actual facts and analysis that I pass along may be of interest. But I do sometimes give a little more free rein to my own voice, and I could presumably get the mush out of my mouth and do that more often.

5) Should I continue blogging more-or-less as I've been doing, on the philosophy that if it isn't broke, don't fix it? 

For now, this approach is working for me. One main reason for starting this blog was as an aid to my memory. I read widely, but I have sometimes had trouble remembering where I saw I certain fact or figure or table or useful explanation. On the blog, I can easily find those materials again as needed. The blog has also been a useful discipline for me, encouraging me to track down and read through reports and research papers that I might only have skimmed before.

But the honest truth is that those personal factors alone probably wouldn't be enough for me to keep the blog going. I like having readers. It pleases me that this blog has now just reached 2 million page-views--which doesn't count all of those viewing it by email, RSS feed, or some other form of reposting. Thus, if you're a regular reader, many thanks. If you're an occasional reader, drop in more often. Those who like what I'm doing on this blog are always going to be a selective group. But if you know someone who might enjoy the blog--whether its a friend or a classroom full of students--please do me a favor and pass along the web address.