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The New York Sun


Why I Write

October 26, 2007

By Edward Glaeser

Tyler Cowen, a star economist-blogger, asked earlier this week in an online posting: "Why is Ed Glaeser writing for the New York Sun? Essentially he's blogging. Without blogs I can't imagine it would make sense for Ed Glaeser to do that." I am certainly thrilled whenever Mr. Cowen's superb blog, "The Marginal Revolution," or any blog for that matter, picks up my work, but his statement is off the mark as to newspapers in general and the Sun in particular. The fact is that I am delighted to be able to write for the Sun's audience, which is large and growing and quite different from the also large audience of The Marginal Revolution. New York's newspapers are the battle ground for the intellectual fight over New York's future. As an exiled New Yorker, I am grateful that the Sun gives me a chance to be part of that debate.

The Sun gives me a chance to cheer Mayor Bloomberg, when he pushes for congestion pricing, and Dan Doctoroff, when he supports the new construction that New York so badly needs, and Joel Klein, when he battles for incentives and accountability in New York's schools. The Sun also allows me to disagree with Tom Wolfe, when he tries to disguise naked NIMBYism in the mantle of good government, and Governor Spitzer, when he supports quixotic spending on Buffalo's infrastructure instead of Buffalo's schools. Most of all, the Sun enables me to celebrate the extraordinary economic, social and cultural vitality of resurgent New York.

Blogs and columns are quite different, and The Marginal Revolution illustrates what can make blogs exciting. Mr. Cowen and his collaborators post to the website with astonishing regularity. Their blog posts are often brief introductions to some external source of information. The best bloggers use an informal style that make the readers feel as if they are old friends. If you read the Freakonomics blog, you will be let into the private life of one of this age's great economists. The chatty conversational style of blogs works well with the discussions that they facilitate among readers who react to an initial blog post and then to each other.

By contrast, an op-ed column is a somewhat formal 750 word art form that usually contains some sort of clear policy punch line. I am thinking of imitating Cato's constant repetition of Delenda Est Carthago by ending each column with the mantra "Manhattan needs more construction and rent control must end." Good columns are self-contained, since they should be accessible to readers who have never previously heard of the author.

While I am flattered by Mr. Cowen's describing me as a blogger, I am much more of an old school columnist. My nineteenth century soul limits my ability to use the easy conversational style of the great blogs. I have no inclination to write on a daily basis. I cherish the hate mail that I receive, but I don't need feel the need to encourage it further by featuring reader feedback on my own website. Since I can't blog, I am grateful to bloggers like Mr. Cowen for citing my work, because they reach a set of readers hungry for their talents that I could never get on my own.

But celebrating the blogosphere should not lead us to underestimate the readers of the Sun, who are drawn to the paper by, among other things, their passion for New York. The Sun's website gets more than one million different visitors each month, and the paper circulates more than 100,000 copies a day, centering in Manhattan. I am pretty sure that my parents have never read a blog, but they certainly read the Sun. The Sun's readers include some of the most discerning New Yorkers and some of its most potent policy-makers and even a few people who fit in both categories.

One of the rewards of writing for the Sun is that I often get a response from the civic leaders who read the paper. Sometimes they agree with me, and sometimes they don't, but at least they are reading what I have to say. While the blogosphere gives me access to people throughout the world who are excited about urban economics, the Sun gives me access to thousands of women and men who are working hard to make New York better. I treasure both audiences.

Would I really stop writing columns if the blogosphere didn't exist? Of course not. If there were no blogs, op-eds would be the only way of getting my views out. And with or without blogs, I want still want to cry out that Manhattan needs more development and rent control must end.

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