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How to learn about the economy and form opinions


The biggest problem that I have in understanding economic ideas is that my own economic literacy is limited. I have only a bachelor’s degree in economics and am a poor mathematician. Yet I’m hungry for economic information. Here’s how I get it.

I read the blogs of some brilliant popularizers, written by economists who seem to be at the peaks of their careers. The ones listed here are just a few of the sources of information available to those who want to know what top economists are discussing.

Marginal Revolution, written by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock of George Mason University, is probably my favorite. George Mason University’s economics department is known for its libertarian leanings, but these guys are not ideologues.

Harvard prof Greg Mankiw’s blog is very helpful. Mankiw’s introductory economics textbook is widely used, because he is able to explain basic principles with clarity. Mankiw is also somewhat right of center.

Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago is a hard-liner against government intervention, in keeping with his department’s reputation. His blog’s title, “Supply and Demand (in that order)” reveals his orientation. Mulligan frequently is a guest on the New York Time’s Economix blog.

Brad DeLong, like Cowen and Mankiw, holds a Harvard Ph.D. He worked in government during the Clinton Administration and is now at UCLA. He makes strong arguments for massive government intervention to keep the economy afloat.

Marginal Revolution has a very comprehensive list of other economics blogs, not limited to a particular ideology or poltical slant.

The main Federal Reserve Bank and each Federal Reserve District have very good websites and are good sources of regional economic data and analysis. You can find these with a search engine.

Forming opinions that have value requires good data and careful analysis. While I have ideas, I’m really short of data and analysis.

I’m hoping to uncover some good sources of economic information and analysis with an Ozarks focus. I’m especially interested in demographic trends, health care, and tourism.

My own suspicion from my own analysis of census data for several counties in Southwest Missouri is that tourism generates population growth and construction spending, but doesn’t boost per capita or family income, resulting in high tax burdens to support infrastructure and marketing, soft real estate values, and high social costs related to unemployment, unpaid health care, and wasted educational resources. In other words, in time we’d be better off if tourism paid its own way and remained a much smaller part of the economy (I’m familiar with the arguments about the multipliers related to tourism revenues, but believe that they are grossly overstated). We’d have slower growth and perhaps a better quality of life.

Does anyone know of any data or analysis to test my hypothesis?

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

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