Link Lovin’ fer the New Year

I decided long ago not to have a “blogroll”, figuring that I would naturally link to the people I read. But it hasn’t really worked out that way. There are lots of amazing authors whose every word I hang on, but whom I rarely have occasion to link. This interweb is an amazing thing. Banks may implode and currencies morph to toilet paper, but intellectually, these are the best of times. There has never been a conversation like this, so many wonderful minds communicating in a forum that is open to everyone, but still relevant, even influentual. Thank goodness for this crazy machine, and for all its cogs and pulleys — writers, commenters, and especially readers.

I want to devote my first post of the year to highlighting and thanking some of the people whose words keep my brain pleasantly marinated. [A note about names — I’m a first-name-basis kind of guy, and will thank accordingly. My use of first names implies neither disrespect of nor any personal familiarity with any of the thankees.]

If I had to nominate one blogger for the role of “hero”, it would be Brad Setser. For years now, Brad has been painstakingly documenting the financial backstory of our times. Bubbles pop, this hedge fund fails, that central bank acts, blah blah blah. Every day another headline, but Brad has focused on the slow grinding of plates beneath, invisible to most but actually the source of the tremors. He approaches the task with a Sisyphean work-ethic, remarkable civility, and openness to new ideas and especially new data. (Brad’s comment section also merits note. It is, I think, the best on the web, thanks largely to the caliber of the headline posts, and Brad’s willingness to engage all comers as colleagues.)

Mark Thoma is a different kind of hero. Economist’s View is the New York Times of the econoblogosphere, the place to find the news of the day treated at length and seriously. Like the Times, there is more reportage than editorial, but the quality of the Mark’s editorial is consistently higher than the Times‘.

Within the ghetto of finance, the first place I turn to for my fix of news is Felix Salmon. I’ve been a Felix fan since he first started scribing as RGE‘s original Economonitor. (They were fools not to have offered thrice whatever it would have taken to retain him there.) I owe Felix a special debt, as he was the first widely read blogger to deem my ravings here linkworthy. It’s been less lonesome ever since. I do have a complaint, though. Back in the day, Felix was the first and only finance blogger who consistently had me spitting up Fruity Pebbles onto my PowerBook. He was hilarious, sometimes hilariously mean, to all comers (including, very gratefully, yours truly). Ever since the snooty Condé Nast franchise got him, he’s been so well behaved. The thoughtfulness, range, and quality of content on Market Movers is better than ever, but I do miss having to replace expensive hardware following a particularly artful post.

Calculated Risk and Tanta have done an amazing job at explaining the housing bubble and the mortgage industry, with clarity, depth, and panache. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism weaves anthology and editorial, keeping us abreast of the intricacies of the financial world and offering a useful perspective from which to view those goings on. I have occasionally linked Yves to disagree with him, but that’s the exception that overwhelms the rule. Yves is usually right, and always worth listening to. Another person who is usually right and deserves special mention for it is Dean Baker.

If you are interested in finance, and don’t read jck at Alea, you’re unserious. jck reads widely and obscurely and unearths some real gems. His posts are often deceptive in their brevity. jck has mastered that art of packing tart commentary and a pair of X-ray spectacles into a couple of sentences, sometimes just in the highlighting. Another underappreciated master of concision is Scurvon. Scurvon comments with a wide and eclectic range in a style that’s straight, direct, and brief. It’s like intravenous information, and you can’t even feel the needle going in. Of course, the most concise bloggers of all are those who only link, and among finance bloggers, Abnormal Returns does a great job of that, except for a few lapses in judgment and taste (he has linked Interfluidity).

Interfluidity, unfortunately, belongs to the subgenre of finance blogs that might be referred to as the we-are-so-fucked-o-sphere. The demigods of our happy realm would have to be Micheal Panzner and Nouriel Roubini. Michael was kind enough to mail me a copy of his book, Financial Armageddon. Michael’s baseline scenario (he often writes in the simple future tense, rather than any hedging with any conditional) is so dark that most of us doomsayers seem like Pollyannas by comparison. The book is worth reading, and the blog carefully documents a world slowly waking up to how bad a fix it has got itself into. Other excellent members of our dingy neighborhood include Michael Shedlock and Aaron Krowne.

Just about one year ago, I got into a lengthy comment debate with one moldbug, whom I first encountered as a commenter on Brad Setser’s blog. moldbug is a wonderful writer, an unusual intellect, and a sharp cookie on all things monetary. We have divergent views about what money ought to be, but similar views of the problems we face now, and he was delightful to argue with. He now has his own blog, Unqualified Reservations (although much of his best financial writing remains where it began, in Brad’s comments).

In no particular order, other finance blogs that I read pretty much constantly, and to whose authors I am grateful, include The Big Picture, Accrued Interest, Financial Crookery, Credit Slips, Cassandra Does Tokyo, Jeff Matthews Is Not Making This Up, The Mess That Greenspan Made, as well as (with a hat tip to Brad Setser) Macro Man and Michael Pettis.

Of course, finance is just one distateful ghetto in the odd, misshapen galaxy of economics. Liking to think of myself as a worldy galaxyly person, I read the economists as well. All this link lovin’ is leaving my fingers sore (don’t go there), so I hope the following authors will understand themselves to be worshipped and adored, despite being so perfunctorily listed: James Hamilton and Menzie Chinn, Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, Dani Rodrik, Thomas Polley, William Polley, Robert Vienneau, Robert Waldmann, George Borjas, Paul Krugman, Gabriel Mihalache, Greg Mankiw, Jonathon Dingel, and knzn .

Of course, there are a hundred, a thousand, a million people, links, stars I’ve missed. The stars in this galaxy, and in other galaxies near or far, are so numerous as to be grains of sand. The texture of the world is not made of isolated points, however many you might catalog, but by the fact that there is somewhere everywhere, a spark in every crevice. (No, that is not why my fingers are hurting.) To all those I’ve named, and those I’ve unforgivably forgotten, and those I don’t even know but might find with a click, thank you for this amazing conversation. To be a small voice in this cacaphony, in this harmony, is a great privilege.

And thank you, whoever you are, who takes the time to read these words. I am blessed by the company of your eyeballs, as creepy as that sounds. (Don’t worry. I’m not hungry.)

Update History:
  • 06-Jan-2008, 5:31 a.m. EST: Let the unforgivable omissions guilt begin! Added knzn, whom I mysteriously missed in my first perusal of my well-worn feeds.
  • 06-Jan-2008, 3:34 p.m. EST: Restored a missing ‘n’ to Michael Panzner’s name.
  • 07-Jan-2008, 3:28 p.m. EST: Fixed the name of moldbug’s blog, “Unqualified Reservations”, not “Unqualified Offerings”. Thanks to commenter nadezhda, who recommends the original Unqualified Offerings. And also to commenter Independent Accountant.
  • 08-Jan-2008, 2:52 a.m. EST: Removed an excess ‘l’ from the end of Jonathon Dingel’s name. Sorry to all — this was truly a masterpiece of typos.

10 Responses to “Link Lovin’ fer the New Year”

  1. Gabriel M. writes:

    I am puzzled by this thing you call “finance”! What is it all about?

    Seriously, I had very little exposure to finance, beyond MM1, MM2 and some personal experience with derivatives.

    Maybe, one day, you could do a post about finance, as a field and as a practical/engineering task… something easy, for beginners, for us to get the point of it all.

  2. Daltica writes:

    There’s another interesting finance blog from Australia that you may want to take a look: Contrarian Investors’ Journal. From that web site:

    How useful are the mainstream financial, economic and investment press in helping you in your investing endeavour? As you may have already suspected, the status quos and misinformation in the mainstream press hardly provide any value to investors.

    Fortunately, here comes one of the rare few investment publications that dare to think outside the box, violate the status quos, challenge conventional views, criticise mainstream opinions and offer in-depth insights that are highly original in nature. Having said that, this is an investment journal not for everyone—its contrarian style of thought goes against the grain of conformist thinking and crowd emotions.

    But in the long run, it is such kind of thinking that separates the legendary investors of excellence from the average. As Robert Kiyosaki said in his book, Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing, “Don’t be average!” you will not find the thoughts of the average in the Contrarian Investors’ Journal. Be warned—experience shows that not everyone can accept its thinking and sarcasm or have the patience to understand its underlying analysis!

    But for those who want to understand how the best of the very bests investors think (and they think differently from the rest), this publication is highly recommended.

  3. bsetser writes:

    Steve — I am enormously flattered. Many thanks. I have been fortunate to have jobs that allowed me to engage in my sisypean task and tolerated my preference for “publishing” my output in real time in a blog format, and lucky to have found readers quickly enough to get some encouragement to carry on.

    Alas, Felix’s slightly more subdued current style is probably more conducive to sustained paid employment than his initial no hold barred RGE econoblogger style.

  4. Gabriel — defining finance, and distinguishing it from economics, strikes me as a hard thing to do, so I’ll just punt, point you to the definition of liquidity given here (page 8, bullet point 2), and suggest that applies to the discipline as a whole. Interestingly, as I’ve gotten close to the academic finance community, I’ve heard it claimed by different people that finance is basically an application of microeconomics, or basically an application of macroeconomics. Which way people go on this question seems to me like a Myers-Briggs of finance types, people who think finance is micro have a very different worldview than those who look at it as macro. (I’m macro-ish.)

    Daltica — Thanks for the pointer.

    Brad — I’m enormously grateful for your work, and I know I’m not alone. Re Felix, I do understand the constraints of non-pajama-based blogging, although alas indeed. My “complaint” was only a backhanded compliment. Top-notch financial journalists who are laugh-out-loud funny are very rare. Some hedge fund zillionaire needs to give him the blogging equivalent of tenure, just because I love to giggle.

  5. nadezhda writes:

    Many thanks for the annotated link roundup.

    One minor correction. The name of moldbug’s blog is “Unqualified Reservations.” There is indeed also a terrific blog, of many years standing, named “Unqualified Offerings”. It’s run by Jim Henley and focuses on US politics with a libertarian angle and foreign policy. Well-written, provocative and very entertaining, even for the non-lib’s among us.

  6. With two exceptions I’ve read every blog you mentioned. I skimmed your and Mencius Moldbug’s (MM) correspondence and borrowing from Shakespere conclude it is “Much Ado About Nothing”. By the way, MM’s website is titled “Unqualifed Reservations”. I think MM has a superb intellect and is widely read, even more widely read than I. That said, I think he takes 10 words to get to a one-word point.

  7. nadezhda — Thanks very much for the catch. Fixed now. I have come across Jim Henley’s blog before, which probably explains the brainfart…

  8. Oh, and thank you too, IA. I was fixing while you were commenting… Concision is not MM’s strong point. I recommend his comments at Brad Setser’s for a more accessible taste… As I knew would happen, it is now the weight of my omissions that is troubling me. There is much excellence that has thus far evaded my RSS reader. I should do a better job trawling my commenters to find some.

  9. t writes:

    hear hear. the conversation is so good one wishes it was all one had on one’s plate.

  10. DRR writes:

    I have the burden of being very interested in these topics while being mostly uneducated about them. Most of what I know about economics and finance comes from reading econ &finance blogs. In this type of situation you have to be wary of how well you can trust the economist talking to you if you don’t have the ability to fact check him yourself (many economists, even good ones, present a skewed or limited picture.) I can honestly (and gladly) say that I can trust whatever Brad Setser says.