Last weekend fellow Temple University economics PhD Adam Ozimek hosted the inaugural #EconTwitterIRL conference. He managed to get 100+ people, including many big names, to come to his bowling alley / arcade in Lancaster, PA.
The overall demographic of Econ Twitter people appears to be youngish professionals, mostly male, surprisingly social and normal-looking (surprising to me because I retain the ’90s-era stereotype that people who write a lot online are nerds who don’t want to talk to anyone IRL).
Adam opened with a history of EconTwitter, which to him is not just about Twitter, but is anywhere where communities of people write about economics online. This starts with the comment sections of the earliest blogs, like Brad DeLong’s, in the early 2000’s. Then in the late 2000’s many commenters start their own blogs, like Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior. In the 2010’s Econ Twitter comes into its own. It may persist or a new forum might take over, but either way the discussion and community will live on.
While it was cool to see a live recording of Odd Lots, and a panel on innovation with MacArthur Genius Heidi Williams, my favorite panel was the one on immigration, because it saw the most serious disagreement. Garett Jones and Daniel Di Martino argued for reforms to the immigration system that would move it away from a focus on family reunification and toward a focus on skills and other indications (like country of origin) that immigrants would benefit the US economy. In contrast, Leah Boustan argued that the current system has worked well, including for assimilation and economic growth, and we should be wary of making big changes to it. Moderator Cardiff Garcia pointed out the oddity of the economists from George Mason and the Manhattan Institute arguing for a “socialist” system where the government determines what the economy needs when it comes to immigration, while the Princeton economist argues against. Garett Jones noted that the rest of his department at Mason disagree with him, but he’s glad to have the freedom to disagree.
While the panel saw intense disagreement about what the ideal system looks like, all panelists shared a frustration with parts of the current system that seem to pointlessly slow or prevent high-skill immigration. Some of this is bureaucracy slowing the process for immigrants who are legally allowed already. Some is politicians refusing to make the smallest, simplest, most common-sense fixes unless they are part of a comprehensive immigration reform that hits their big priority. The big priorities differ by party, but the commitment to holding simple fixes hostage is bipartisan.
Hopefully discussions like this can start to change things. That might sound naive or idealistic, but on an earlier panel Matt Yglesias noted that we should be both impressed and slightly scared of how aware Capitol Hill staffers are about the opinions of Econ Twitter.
The magic of all this is that you never know what can come from a post. You might make a friend, make an enemy, get a job, lose a job, influence public policy, get a job in the White House… even make (or lose) a million dollars. So we keep poasting, and once in a while see the results IRL.