Well, yes, obviously

But in a letter Tory MP Andrew Bridgen – who had raised concerns about the appointment – Mr Katz said Mr Weldon’s ‘specialist expertise’ in economics was more important than his training as a reporter.

He said: ‘Duncan was one of several candidates we considered who came from an economics rather than a conventional journalistic background…we believed a deep knowledge of economics was more important than journalistic experience for this role.’

Given that most journalists, including most of those writing on business, economics and or politics, wouldn’t know a good economic argument from a plate of steamed rhubarb yes, it is indeed a good idea to hire someone who knows their economics and teach them the journalism rather than the other way around.

Especially since journalism itself is a craft, something that you learn by doing.

Putting this in a slightly different manner. Who do you want as an economics editor, someone with an MA in Journalism and a copy of Samuelson? Or someone who understands economics and would need a bit of direction on the house style on semi-colons?

At which point we might note that the chief economics leader writer of The Guardian is an historian. Which explains the other side of this same problem really.

25 comments on “Well, yes, obviously

  1. I would refer you to the case of one R Murphy.

    He reports he has the No.1 economics blog in the UK, yet self-admittedly declined to attend his economics course at Uni due to the neo-liberal focus of the syllabus. You would not be suggesting he is not competent to be blogging on the topics he does?

    And he was still able to publish several books that cover areas of economics, the most recent of which I see he is shamelessly plugging again today with a handy link to an online bookshop – perhaps his income from grants is down this year?

  2. As someone who worked as an economist before becoming a journalist, I tend to agree that it’s easier to pick up journalism than economics, but with 2 caveats:
    1. A big skill in journalism is the ability to ask questions and get people to open up. This is hard to learn, as it depends partly upon soft skills. And Duncan won’t learn from Paxo.
    2. The really big challenge for him (and one reason I didn’t apply) is to make economics televisual whilst remaining faithful to principles of good reasoning – one of which is not to draw general inferences from single observations. If Dunc has this skill, he’ll be brilliant.
    Oh yes, and don’t under-rate the journalistic ability to write well. When I moved into journalism, I couldn’t write at all. And even now, I consider myself a lousy writer.

  3. Is it really that hard, in the whole of Britain, to find someone who can do both journalism and economics? For a plum, well-paid job?

    Also, if they do insist on going for someone who just has economics, can they really not find anyone better than a partisan hack with questionable views? In the whole of the country, a place awash with prestigious economists, that’s the best they can do?

  4. I dare say that getting an education in economics can impair the writing skills of someone who could write well when he left school.

    Getting a science education certainly did it for me.

  5. @chris
    “(and one reason I didn’t apply)”
    There’s an implication you could have applied?
    In which case you might be able to answer a question raised a few days ago. Where was the position advertised?

  6. > The really big challenge for him (and one reason I didn’t apply) is to make economics televisual whilst remaining faithful to principles of good reasoning – one of which is not to draw general inferences from single observations.

    The biggest challenge facing a BBC Economics Editor, in their *own* mind, is to advance a left-wing agenda while appearing neutral enough to get away with it.

  7. @bloke in spain.
    I didn’t look for an advert, so I can’t answer that. But given that Paul Mason’s departure was widely broadcast, the existence of a vacancy was well-known. It should have been simple to find out from the BBC how to apply.

  8. “Is it really that hard, in the whole of Britain, to find someone who can do both journalism and economics? ”

    yes.

  9. BIS, it was on the BBC website. I looked when we had this discussion before, by which time it was marked as no longer vacant, but still there.

  10. It should have been simple to find out from the BBC how to apply.

    Hmmm. Well, yes. Every big organisation will tell you how to apply for a position: send in your CV and a covering letter. What they won’t tell you is that your CV will get dropped in the bin as the position has already been earmarked for somebody else, either an internal candidate or a relative.

  11. @Luke
    “BIS, it was on the BBC website. ”
    I’m going to try this next time i need to employ someone. Stick the job on the noticeboard by the door. Save all this problem, worrying about discriminating against minorities. i don’t know any.

    @Tim N
    But the BBC’s a public service broadcaster. That’s a terrible insinuation. They’d never do a thing like that!

  12. Having argued economics with Duncan on occasion (predominantly on his old blog) I thought he was one of the more reasonable and unbiased left-wing economists.

    He was though, an unashamedly left-wing economist, and I did find that on many an occasion that would be the overriding factor of the ponit he was trying to make – effectively goal-seeking data to make a party poltiical point.

    He would at least engage in reasoned debate and not resort to histrionics, unlike other “economists” we know.

  13. >He was though, an unashamedly left-wing economist, and I did find that on many an occasion that would be the overriding factor of the ponit he was trying to make – effectively goal-seeking data to make a party poltiical point.

    He would at least engage in reasoned debate and not resort to histrionics, unlike other “economists” we know.

    Just the man, then, to advance the left-wing agenda without appearing too obvious in his bias. No wonder the BBC found him to be the best-qualified man for the job

    >At which point we might note that the chief economics leader writer of The Guardian is an historian. Which explains the other side of this same problem really.

    No, this is the wrong way to look at it. What is going on is, places like the BBC and The Guardian want to hire someone with the right ideology (this is mostly the case with the BBC, although sometimes it doesn’t happen if the execs concerned aren’t as ideological as usual). That’s the first and main priority/criterion. Other secondary criteria may or may not include getting in someone who is good at telly or journalism or whatever. Another is getting in someone who knows something about the topic. Also, getting in someone you knew from Oxbridge. If you can get someone who has those secondary criteria then that’s even better, but they don’t trump the first critieria. That’s why you end up with know-nothing historians as Economics Editors.

  14. From the latest Quarterly Bulletin from the B of E :”and in contrast to descriptions found in some textbooks , the B of E does not directly control the quantity of either base or broad money.”
    So its no help getting in somebody who has been instructed by the Economics textbooks or who harbours “popular misconceptions” that money is created by anybody other than “commercial banks making loans” .This rather major issue is not understood on this site by people who claim to be economists so you would not be worse off with a well-read historian .The most eloquent analyst of economic problems ,was, I am afraid to admit as a socialist, Enoch Powell, the foremost classicist of his generation.

  15. oh give it a rest DBC, the economics text books being referred to are (some of the) first year undergrad books and if the lecturer/tutor isn’t a moron one of the first things they will tell students is something like “we are going to study some models in which quantity of money is set by policy maker, of course this is not how things actually work, more on that later” and that “later” entails being taught about open market operations under interest rate targeting, maybe a first-year topic, maybe second year depending on the uni. Furthermore even the simple first-year stuff still says that money is created by commercial banks making loans (and central banks buying bonds). Please believe me as somebody who has taught first-year macro classes that the Quarterly Bulletin really did not contain anything new to me, nothing that contradicted what we (I refer to class tutors and course lecturer) said to students, and nobody thinks the B of E is in direct control of the money supply. Some text books look at the expression for the multiplier (the accounting identity) and say if these things can be assumed to be roughly constant then the CB could control M by varying H, maybe some people would still make that claim but nobody I know would, but it’s moot in any case because everybody knows that when you target an interest rate you don’t target H. And everybody knows that attempts to target M failedd because the relationship between M and H is all over the place.

    You would (probably) have known all this already if you had a (decent) econ degree. In fact this is a case in point. If a journalist writing an article about that BoE article that has got you so excited actually knew their stuff, they’d have been able to explain all this, it’s only those who don’t know what they are on about that a running around claiming that article says orthodoxy is “wrong”

  16. I went to a student address by Powell once. He may have lacked a human dimension but by God he was a magnetic speaker. Even more impressive was the speed with which he grasped the points made to him by a bunch of cocky young shavers, and the grace, cogency, and clarity of his replies. What a waste.

  17. While I fully realized none are actually journalists, but I have to ask how well that’s worked out in the cases of Paul Krugman, Dean Baker and Brad DeLong?

    Actually, the first and most important quality in an economics journalist should be the first and important quality in any journalist or any economist: Intellectual integrity.

  18. Denis, “While I fully realized none are actually journalists, but I have to ask how well that’s worked out in the cases of Paul Krugman, Dean Baker and Brad DeLong?”

    Pretty well, I’d say. (Except I have no idea who Duncan Black is.)

    BIS,
    “I’m going to try this next time i need to employ someone. Stick the job on the noticeboard..”
    Come on. Anyone who didn’t know Paul Mason had resigned, and didn’t have the initiative to look on the BBC website wasn’t unsuitable for the job. I remember Chris making some joke ages ago about not applying even though a Marxist with a regional accent had resigned – it wasn’t a secret there was a job.

  19. “While I fully realized none are actually journalists, but I have to ask how well that’s worked out in the cases of Paul Krugman, Dean Baker and Brad DeLong?”

    Dean Baker is OK from time to time, Krugman the economist seems to be a very different creature entirely to Kurgman the polemist and I’ve never read anything by DeLong.

    So, mixed bag?

  20. @LE
    If the fact that banks create money ex nihilo is generally understood, how come the B of E ‘s “Money creation in the modern economy” bulletin has three warnings like this on the first page ?
    “Money creation in practice differs from some popular misconceptions”
    ” how these deposits are created is often misunderstood ”
    “The reality of how money is created today differ from the descriptions found in some economic textbooks.”
    The second page continues in the same vein “two common misconceptions”, “dispels some myths” another eight times.
    Clearly the B of E thinks there are great deficiencies in general education on these points which are hardly helped by economic journalists, one might surmise.
    I do not have to remind you the last time the subject of banks making money up as they go along was raised on this site(on March 18th), nearly a hundred e-mails resulted with some people who thought they knew better than the B of E still quibbling and calling people liars after a magisterial ruling from Frances Coppola 10.50 “Fourthly you are all missing the point. I ‘ve explained ad nauseam both here and elsewhere how banks create ex nihilo.”
    You may claim you let a chosen few advanced students into the secret of bank money creation( on a pas devant les domestiques basis ) but your choice of words illustrates the identical failure of economic journalists to tell the whole truth: “Furthermore even the simple first year stuff still says that money is created by commercial banks making loans ” But they’re not making loans: existing money is not changing hands .You should be saying “money is created by commercial banks by advancing money created by themselves” .And conning people it comes from existing customers.
    If a proper economist can use such terminological inexactitudes as “commercial banks making loans”, we might be better with journalists trained outside this closed world.

  21. “You may claim you let a chosen few advanced students into the secret of bank money creation”

    why did you write that? I was talking about introductory macro, which is taken by all students with any element of economcis in their degree.

    you think the phrase “making loans” implies existing making money changing hands, not me. I could equally accuse of you inexactitudes because “advancing money created by themselves” is certainly not all there is to it. You think journalists with no economic education are less prone to inexact descriptions of money creation? Pull the other one.

    my recollection of that comments thread you refer to is that Francis and I, and others, were in perfect agreement and there was on person (Ian B) with some misinformed ideas and another, whose name I forget, who wanted to argue that having funds on reserve was such an integral part of being a bank that we shouldn’t claim banks can “advance money” without having funds of reserve.

    yes I know that the BoE article positioned itself as myth busting. Reality is of course more complicated than simply stories told to introductory students. If you ask me, any decent economics teacher ensures students are aware of the gap between parable and reality. The BoE evidently think too many students emerge unaware of the gap. I am more optimistic.

    As Frances says, the big mistake is to think banks merely passively increase lending whenever they get their hands on additional funds. It’s hard to say how many economics students come away with that idea. I know ours should not have, because we made them write essays about how QE did not increase the money supply by very much and why. And we use perfectly mainstream textbooks.

  22. ‘LE
    “You think the phrase ‘making loans’ implies existing money changing hands, not me.” Well more fool you then: there is no such thing as a private language and using words contrary to their accepted meaning is discouraged in British academia.
    Back when philosophers tied themselves in pointless knots debating ,for instance, the concept of “freedom”, a saying was ascribed to Wittgenstein viz “There are no problems of philosophy; only problems of language” so Ordinary Language Philosophers pointed out that the expression “freedom” was ,in ordinary use, qualified by prepositions, so “free from ” and “free to”.This finished a debate that had been going on for generations.
    Some of the many problems of modern Economics would appear to be problems of language also.
    Allhusen and Holloway” Money the Decisive Factor ” (1959) (talking about the government’s reliance on lending from the financial institutions).It is entirely misleading to describe the banks’ services in financing government expenditure out of newly created money as ‘lending’.The word should never have been used in this connexion and has created an entirely false picture of what is happening.”
    Linguistic inexactitude also surrounds the term “tax ” which is used to describe the government taking people’s earnings off them and also in the case of Land value Tax taking back some part of the unearned capital gains made when landed property appreciates in value through the work of the community and not the landowner.
    As Max Keiser is presently pointing out ,accepted definitions of inflation ,used in standard indices, omit huge increases in rents and house prices and concentrate on the prices of goods sold in Primart that come from Asian sweat shops that fall down.
    So for good economics journalists ,you probably need people who understand the concepts of linguistic determinism, semiotics and deconstruction who may be graduates of English Language, Literature, Philosophy and even the despised Media Studies who would better understand that if you attach the wrong words to things you end up with trouble. They can pick up the Economics concepts by reading a few Economic heretics or monetary reformers (such as Holloway whom I met) plus the Mythbuster B of E bulletin.( The expression ‘fountain pen money’ as used by the B of E this month was considered to be going a bit too far by old school economic heretics who restricted themselves to expressions like” book-entry money” See Wikipedia for the industrialist A.V. Roe .)

  23. Wow. Well I look forward to a world in which economics correspondents trained in semiotics and decontruction abjure the word tax

  24. @LE
    Not so much renounce the use of the word as to show some awarenesss that there are different forms of tax , with some taxes , such as LVT comprising an element of repayment for unwarranted benefits received .At the moment the tax debate consists of an obsession with Income Tax heavily prejudiced by a body calling itself the Tax Payers Alliance which the most elementary deconstruction would reconfigure more honestly as the Tax Avoiders Alliance. As the B of E Mythbusters Bulletin says on p2 key behaviours in the somewhat basic money supply issue are “the reverse of the sequence typically disputed in textbooks.” Too often in Economics things are in reality the reverse of the deceptive terms used to depict them by tenured practitioners.
    There is a career opportunity for a literate Economist to clear up the conventional language of Economics much of which Allhusen and Holloway said in 1959 “should never have been used.” And they were talking about the fiction of describing ” the banks services financing government expenditure out of newly created money as ‘lending’ “,i.e. a half -century before the abuse of this system came to be called Austerity.
    BTW On Thursday 27th Max Keiser reached Charlie Parker heights of extemporisation on the riff of money creation by the banks apropos the Mythbuster Bulletin .
    A last word on “The BoE shock to monetary illusions”(his title) is supplied by Steve Keen no less: “Now if I believed in the tooth fairy I would hope this emphatic denunciation of the textbook model would cause macroeconomics lecturers to drastically revise their lectures for the next week. But I am too long in the tooth to have such a delusion. They’ll ignore it instead.
    Their dominant tactic- if I can call it that- will be ignorance itself; most economics lecturers won’t even know that the bank’s paper exists and they will continue to teach from whichever bible they’ve chosen to inflict on their students. A secondary one will be to know it, but ignore it , as they’ve ignored countless critiques of mainstream economics before The third arrow in the quill” ( quiver?) “if they are challenged by students about it (hint! hint!) will be to argue that the textbook is ‘useful parable’ for beginning students and a more realistic vision is introduced in more advanced courses”.

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