I have mixed feelings about Town Square. I like the idea of a forum for community online conversation. When Jay Thorwaldson approached me, I wanted to respond positively and, of course, there is no getting around that writing a blog is fun.
I like to explain economics so it is more understandable to people. That is particularly of interest in times like this when the economy is so scary and such a topic of concern for families everywhere.
Most economists agree with 90% of the basic ideas in economics. But it is usually the 10% where people disagree that get the most attention and often the technical and ideological disagreements (for example, about the impact and benefit of various tax policies) overwhelm the public discussion. People are drawn to view the world as divided into "Republican" economists and "Democratic" economists who spend their time in verbal sword fighting.
I am interested in seeing if I can focus on the 90% and this blog is an experiment in that goal. I also think the displaying the 90% where there is agreement is especially important in the current deep recession where people are afraid and their future is more than usually tied to the success of policies and ideas they see every day in the economic news.
But personal comments or sarcastic or rude postings are not consistent with the kind of conversations I find useful. And while Town Square is directly in the mainstream of newspaper online blog experiments, I wanted to try something different
So I negotiated with the Weekly to have a blog where respondents need to register and where I have some say in whether comments stay up if they are rude or personal. We are working toward a format where comments are first reviewed by a moderator as is done on some online forums.
All of the ideas that I will write about have been said in person by me to some audience. And I have never had a rude or personal comment come back.
I don't think this is because I never screw up a fact or an argument. After all it is now widely publicized that white people with blue eyes are at the heart of our economic distress and it is very courageous of the Weekly to go with a white blue-eyed economist as a blogger. Or maybe they and I were just clueless when we agreed to start this experiment.
I think the reason there is no rudeness is that it disappears when you must look the other person in the eye and you have a name just like them. In this situation the bloggers have names and I am trying to replicate the real life situation where conversation is between people with names and the personal responsibility that goes with being known to the person you might disrespect.
In my professional life I work with groups that are trying to invite people into public policy discussions who are usually overlooked or afraid to speak out. I think a civil blog invites these people in who might not participate if they get put down or called silly or socialist or some of the other stuff that goes on in online forums.
Perhaps for some people what I want isn't their kind of forum. Or perhaps nothing I have to say is interesting enough to comment on respectfully. But I hope that people will respect this experiment in seeing who might want to register and participate in a different kind of conversation.