The blogosphere is a powerful tool. We have a technology that gives everyone access to ideas at low cost, and permits the instantaneous exchange of those ideas. The ideas can be good and bad, of course, and it takes some effort to sift through what is out there. I have been doing this for about a year now, and have learned a lot. Why do I do it? Nobody is paying me of course and, while there is some payoff in notoriety, it does not seem to be the notoriety that an academic needs. Academic economists make their names by publishing papers in scholarly journals, and influencing other academics. The ideas are vetted internally by the profession, sifted, and then are put to use in solving practical problems. That's scientific progress.
Here is what blogging does for me. It forces me on a regular basis to put complicated ideas into words and make them (hopefully) easy to understand. This is excellent discipline. The fact that those words are going to be read by a large number of people is also disciplinary. You want to have your facts right, and your arguments well-constructed, or someone will try to embarrass you. In economics seminars people can be tough as well - that's good practice for the blogosphere.
Sometimes I like to provoke. If you challenge someone's ideas and force them to defend themselves, you can get an interesting discussion going, and everyone learns something. That's the end goal. I was trained to be an educator, and this blog is just another educational tool - for me and anyone else who cares to read it.
Now, sometimes provocation does not work. Not everyone is interested in economic science. Some people have political agendas, and that need not mix well with science. I think that is part of the Paul Krugman problem, but you might disagree with me. If the political people enter the debate and misunderstand the context, then all hell can break loose, and science suffers. I have just had an experience where two groups of readers met each other, neither appreciated what the other group was up to, and nothing of value got accomplished. So I deleted that post, and wrote it off to experience.
Now, some tips for the politically active people. The events since late 2008 have been confusing and troubling. Trained economists are struggling to sort things out, so it is no wonder that everyone else is angry and looking for someone to blame. And some of those trained economists, looking to gain advantage, are quite willing to blame some of the other economists whose ideas they don't like. My messages to you are: (i) I think things are under control. Don't worry too much. Economists may bicker, but they are actually a productive lot. (ii) We are very lucky here in this country. We have stable democratic institutions, and a lot of control over those institutions if we choose to exercise it. (iii) Knowledge is power. Work to get inside the institutions. Then you can have some influence over how things are run. (iv) More knowledge helps you to understand what is worth keeping and what we should throw out. If you get carried away, you might make some errors.