Sunday, March 25, 2012

A blogging journey

- by New Deal democrat

It's been about 7 years since the pixels of my nom de blog, New Deal democrat, made their appearance. At the time, I needed a handle to log onto Daily Kos. Since I am a big fan of FDR and his New Deal, especially after reading Arthur Schlesinger's three-volume history, and couldn't come up with anything particularly clever, I chose "New Deal democrat." I was surprised that it wasn't already taken, which to me speaks volumes about the modern Democratic Party.

Although I blogged and commented about some general political issues, I quickly gravitated towards economic history and finally, simple economic reporting. As I saw it, the truth has a progressive bias. Simply report the truth well enough and the progressive platform will follow naturally. In an undeveloped or developed economy, left to its own devices without any counterweight, inevitably the rich will get richer and the other classes, poorer.

Further, economics as it is typically taught in college and even in graduate school is like learning to read blueprints for an exquisite castle in the air. No matter how eloquent the math, the assumptions completely undercut its legitimacy. Additionally, the criteria for optimization are incredibly conservative. If a small band of plutocrats have 99% of the wealth in the status quo, then that is accepted as optimal, and any improvement in everybody else's position must come from new growth. And the equations never admit of participants dying from privation - like cartoon characters they are assumed to spring back to life every new day. Otherwise the optimal economy would be the one in which most participants survive until the end of the period measured, and you know what that means ....

Anyway, I decided that progressives could use somebody spelling out as neutrally as possible what was going on deep down in the weeds of the economy. As 2007 progressed, I saw the economic reckoning at hand. Here's a very brief sample from August of that year:
Why we are "rhyming"

If we are at the beginning of the first full-fledged (but slow-motion) "bust" the economy has seen in 70 years, then we are "rhyming" with 1929.
One day before the Great Recession officially began, I wrote The Panic of 2008?, saying:
This is NOT the Great Depression II. Nor is this the stagflationary 1970s. It is going to unfold as some other Beast. Only the broad outlines of this Beast appear discernable now: it will likely feature (1) increasing import prices; (2) wage stagnation (that does not keep up with price inflation); (3) real asset deflation; and (4) possibly a Japan-style "liquidity trap."
Check, check, check, and check.

Once the Beast showed itself and the Panic came to pass, I began to look for the bottom of the cliff. Most of you know the story there, so I won't rehash that entire episode, but here's just one cite from early May 2009:
This week's decline increases the likelihood that the recession is very close to bottoming to more than 50%.
One limitation of a politically partisan blog is that economic reporting is, relatively speaking, not a popular topic. I was invited to blog at the Economic Populist by Rob Oak, and I posted most of my material there in 2008 and 2009. While Rob has a noble cause, it is clear to me that popular recommendations for what gets highlighted is a prescription for the most extreme views to prevail. In late 2009, as the Bonddad wars reached a crescendo, he invited me to co-blog over here.

My typical post at Daily Kos took hours of research, was really wonky, and sank into the depths with 30 or 40 comments and 100 or 200 reads. Meanwhile I thought my co-blogger, Bonddad, could post his grocery bill and get on the Rec list! My reasons for leaving are quite different from his. One thing Bonddad and I agree on is that one nasty reply feels about the same as 10 plaudits. Since my wonky posts very rarely made the Rec list, there was no critical mass of supporters, and I was under no obligation to put a lot of effort into a post, only to see it mainly attacked in comments by retarded killer bees.

Nowadays in any given day only about 2 or 3 posts at Daily Kos have 2000 readers. Most pieces are derivative, regurgitating yesterday's punditry, in the format of "Pundit/politician says: '[copy-and-paste].'" By contrast, in the last year this blog has seen its readership grow, and more often than not my posts are picked up by Business Insider and/or Seeking Alpha, meaning that my typical readership has grown to and past 2000 reads. And the quality of the reads is generally very good. I also want to thank Bill McBride a/k/a Calculated Risk, Barry Ritholtz, Joe Weisenthal, Jeff Miller, Abnormal Returns, Real Clear Markets, and others for referring readers to my work.

So I am very comfortable with where I am now. I thank all of the readers and commenters (even if I don't have time to reply, be assured I do read them). I will continue to strive to dig down into the economic data and report as neutrally as I can what is going on now and what the near future is likely to be.