Published on Development Impact

Do cultural differences explain some of the variation in who blogs and what they say?

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This week, I am writing from Palmerston North in New Zealand, which is home to Massey University and is hosting the 2012 meetings of the NZAE. I enjoyed a session on housing, during which I learned about leaky houses crises of the 1990s (with some parallels to the recent financial crises in deregulation going bad), a plenary on meta-analysis in economics (did you know there are 626 of them?), and got to meet economists based in New Zealand. But, the main reason I was here was that the NZAE organized a round table discussion on the impact of blogs. I got to present my paper with David McKenzie on the impact of economics blogs, and then be part of a panel with econ bloggers in NZ, discussing the effects of blogs, who blogs, constraints, etc. If you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with the econ blogosphere in NZ, you can check out Offsetting Behavior, The visible hand in economics, and Groping towards Bethlehem.

Among some of the more interesting things we discussed was the self-censoring/self-control that a blogger has to exert in a world of repeated interactions. This came up as a particularly salient issue for people who are part of think tanks or research organizations that are also doing consulting for the government, private sector, etc. Panelists were quite frank about the difficulty of being critical of the work of some people, who may hire them for other work later. In fact, even people in the audience admitted to not commenting on blog posts or commenting anonymously because, as one person put it, “you never know what people will dig up in the future.” It sounded like the fear of a poor blog post or a careless comment coming back to haunt you was a reason behind pulling some punches.

The general sentiment was the need to find the balance between providing some critical thinking about a policy proposal, a working paper, or another blog post without being rude, disingenuous, or otherwise objectionable. This led to an interesting discussion about the role of culture in determining both the identity of bloggers and the tone of blogging. For those of you not familiar, the discussion at a typical seminar or conference presentation here goes quite differently than it would in an academic setting in the U.S.: the audience generally avoids interrupting the speaker and the questions and the discussion are very polite. The frequency and the speed with which a presenter is interrupted are likely positively correlated with the share of those from (or educated in) North America in the audience.

The panel discussed whether such cultural differences were partly responsible for the lack of high profile bloggers in NZ. One of the panelists, citing the likes of Cowen, DeLong, Krugman, and Mankiw, being active bloggers in the U.S., lamented the absence of influential NZ economists in the blogosphere. That may well be part of it. Considering, however,that this is a small country of 4.5 million people, it is also possible that many of the more prolific economists here are already in positions of power or have a voice in opposition without the need for a blog to have their voices heard. It was interesting to discuss…

I am off next week, so a happy 4th of July break for those in the U.S….


Berk Özler

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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