Friday, March 28, 2014

Notes on Economic(al) Writing

As the school year began, I started to outline a basic handbook for writing within economics. That process was interrupted by life, yet I still consider the handbook a valuable endeavor for my students and for others interested in how thinkers transmit the ideas in this field.

What are the rhetorical traditions within economics? How are these traditions shaped by other disciplines? How has the shift within economics from philosophy towards mathematical models ("science") altered the rhetoric of economists? How effective are the works of economists and scholars interested in economics?

It seems to me, and this is not based on quantitative research, that only a few economists remain influential beyond the academic realm. Yes, there are economists advising political leaders, but how effective are they as economists — versus their effectiveness as ideologues?

Helping students communicate effectively might, or might not, improve policy debates. Economists of great note were lousy communicators, though. Good communicators with minimal economic knowledge have greater influence than their scholarship (or lack of) merits. This frustrates me, and I'm sure it frustrates many who are passionate about economic research and rigor.

By academic measures, neither Marx (a philosopher specializing in Epicureanism) nor Keynes (a mathematician) were "economists" with degrees in that discipline, yet we recognize that both philosophy and math shape economics as a field. These men do prove that writing well results in a lasting influence.

This summer, I intend to complete a first draft of my handbook for writing in economics. Ideally, it will be useful.