In today's PPE Workship Dan Klein made a plea for those who value liberty to assist the everyman. In writing an email to give him my thoughts, I realised that I'd be a hypocrite if my response wasn't public! We can look at the diagram below to sum up Klein's argument: Stigler (in B) is wrong to attack Friedman (in A). In other words, there shouldn't be a solid line between public discourse and scholarly discourse, for after all it's the everyman who's the practitioner of economic policy. Doing well, isn't the same as doing good.
In Klein's diagram there are three columns, which he labels "libertarian", "statist" and an intermediate, mugwumpary category. I've changed them here to fit into the individualist and egalitarian bias that I've used elsewhere. Looking at the difference between public and scholarly discourse, Klein pointed out that the distinction is more to do with attitude, then where your ideas are published. It strikes me that people who are content with their own opinion (and that, for them, is what matters) will be in the bottom group. However those who are desperate to change things, and take part in the social conversation, will be in the top group. In other words, there is an individualistic element to scholarly discourse, and an egalitarian element to public debate.
So we shouldn't be surprised that the media is full of egalitarians - the action of trying to convince people of ideas you believe in is fairly egalitarian. Individualists are less likely to be predesposed to changing minds, but even if they are, they'd do so via personal networks, rather than broad media. It's more common to find a quiet individualist then a quiet egalitarian. Egalitarians rely on changing your mind, whereas individualists don't - just leave them alone!
The rise of blogging has challenged the previous position where mainstream media was wholly egalitarian. It's a slight paradox, but blogging has spawned far more (and far higher quality) libertarians than socialists. My answer to this is that blogging isn't as much of a social conversation as appears, and even if it were, there's an alternative motivation. To be a blogger requires a sufficient ego that convinces you people should care about your thoughts. It is therefore a fairly individualist activity. Blogs that link to other, similar blogs and comment on similar issues are not part of a conversation at all, they're merely a new medium to perpetuate old backslapping.
I do take Klein's plea seriously, and although i'll embed articles in the economics I know and love (such as this one) I will also read "the other side". I link more to Owen Barder and Chris Dillow then I do to anyone else, and enjoy debating with them more than agreeing with my colleagues. This is because although i'm an individualist, I am not a libertarian. I do not want to seceed from the world, I want to change it. So whereas some individualists will retract to their internally consistant self-referential universe, lodging themselves deep within B, I want to try and play at A. I want to follow Pete Boettke's advice to write serious, scholarly work, but to give it relevence and exposure outside of academic circles. I want to jump between A and B. Can it be done? Let's find out...
One final point, during the discussion people wondered when academia might respond to blogging. My own view is that the causation is the other way around: the NBER database preceeded Napster, and the norms of blogging follow the norms of academic citations. The relationship will be circular, but the initial causation is clear.