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August 2, 2009
David Warsh, Proprietor


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The Morning Meeting

The second most important part of a daily newspaper is something readers never see, or even hear about – the daily meetings in which editors hash out their plans for coverage of upcoming events. (Most reporters never attend these sessions, either.) The afternoon meeting is terse, as editors vie for space for their reporters’ stories in the next morning’s paper. The morning meeting is more expansive and optative.

Economic Principals has a morning meeting, too, but it goes on inside EP’s head. Last week it went like this:

So what have we got?

Several long-range projects, none quite ready to go.

The economy is bottoming out, what about that?

Very interesting, but it’s not what we do. Certainly it’s a little early to think that we are out of the woods altogether.

How about the Bernanke reappointment?

It seems to be on track. Willem Buiter took a pretty good shot at him in the Financial Times last week, by way of endorsing Janet Yellen (“I prefer untried and untested to tried, tested and failed.”) I’ve been reading David Wessel’s In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, a level-headed assessment of the last few years which comes down pretty firmly in favor of reappointment.

What about a book roundup?

John Kay has got one over at the FT. I’m glad I didn’t have to wade through all those titles! But then Kay doesn’t seem to have read all of them, either. He mixes up Dan Immergluck, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who wrote Foreclosed (a book that is included in his review), with Edmund Andrews, the New York Times reporter who wrote Busted (a title he doesn’t mention). And he gets exactly backwards the relationship between Richard Posner’s book A Failure of Capitalism and the Atlantic blog, separate from the one he writes with Gary Becker, that Posner created to update it.

What else?

There’s that proxy-access column we’ve been working on. All kinds of proposals to change corporate governance are in the hopper, including a proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission to make it easier for shareholders to nominate directors for corporate boards. Business Week did a good job sorting out the three approaches last week. Charles Schumer’s Shareholder Bill of Rights would go well beyond the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation that followed the Enron scandals, according to one of the experts that BW cites. But real action is coming in the next couple of weeks, during the SEC’s public comment period, when companies seek to shape rules that, whether directors like them or not, will make proxy battles much easier to wage. This one bears watching.

How about the Summer Institute meetings at the National Bureau of Economic Research?

They ended last week. We should have jumped in on the new work in field experiments. Let’s try to catch up on that.

What about profiles? Aren’t they our bread and butter? Principals with an “a” and all that?

They used to be, when we got paid a fat salary with plenty of travel and five weeks’ vacation. Those things take time! We still do them when we can. In fact, we’ve got one scheduled for next week.

Serious books, then, reflecting significant new developments?

That’s what we’re best-suited to do now. But they’re hard, too. For one thing, readers clearly don’t want a steady diet of social science online, any more than they did in print – the whole point of EP, after all, is perspective. For another, drop a stitch here and you’re really in trouble. Look what happened when we didn’t write up Avner Greif and Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy five years ago. There’s a whole string of pieces that should have developed out of that in timely fashion: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson on Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; Douglass North, John Wallis and Barry Weingast on Violence and Social Orders; Vernon Smith on Rationality in Economics; Richard Tuck on Free Riding and Steven Medema on The Hesitant Hand. I haven’t solved that puzzle yet. But I haven’t given up, either.

And weren’t you going to go back for a second look at A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World?

Yes, that too!

Nothing about the news business?

There’s probably something to be said about how news broadcasters are building out onto the web.The BBC has long been the pioneer, but NPR has been beefing up its site recently, and, courtesy of the Sloan Foundation, The Online NewsHour now has a lively new blog, hosted by economic correspondent Paul Solman, with which to leverage its extensive reporting for Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour. And of course with the economy bottoming out, the big US regional newspapers are likely to be sold – The Boston Globe is on the market now, and Sam Zell will probably sell the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and perhaps even the Chicago Tribune.

Sam Zell! Isn’t that the guy you thought would behave sensibly when he bought Tribune Co.?

Don’t rub it in! At least he loves his motorcycles.

And marketing? What about that damned book?

You mean the EP sampler that I keep promising to produce as a subscription premium? Aren’t there too many books in the world already? Chuffed though we were to make The Wall Street Journal’s list of The Top 25 Economics Blogs the other day, EP exists mainly in the realm of in-between. It is not really a blog, for it appears only weekly, with no reader feedback and no blogroll; nor is it the column it once was, for it is part of no newspaper (though related by temperament to several). EP is a weekly, and while the attraction is considerable of rendering a sampler in printed form, the enterprise is properly understood mainly as a stream of commentary, a reconnaissance, a report of a beat (in newspaper parlance), best encountered at home on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning? It doesn’t turn up on the Web until Sunday evening.

Ah! Readers are interested in the full experience should subscribe to EP’s bulldog edition, which arrives, via email, a little before midnight Saturday evening (EST). What’s $50 in support of a really good cause — making news about economics and the economics profession available for free to 30,000+ regular readers in 120 countries around the world? And there are quarterly behind-the-scenes reports. But Economic Principals’ secret sauce remains its early edition Sunday morning.

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