Oct 22, 2011
Apparently the best bet is to hang around famous people (so the media will also be there) and then say things about topics that readers will care about (so the media will want to tell them about it). In this case I was at a Federal Reserve research conference on the long-term effects of the great recession. Chairman Bernanke was also there ( = the famous person, at least in certain circles), and he gave a keynote speech just after lunch. I didn’t find it too enlightening, although apparently if you parse his words carefully enough, it was a big deal.
But let’s return to me. My colleague Anat Bracha and I had prepared a paper for the conference, about the effect of the recent real estate crash on consumer attitudes toward homeownership. Short story: people in hard-hit areas are less confident (relative to those in less hard-hit areas) about buying homes if they are young, but are more confident if they are old. In both cases, we only see an effect if the person has had direct personal experience of loss (e.g. someone close to them was foreclosed upon). The working paper can be found on the conference website linked to above, but we’re revising it now in light of comments so I won’t push that here.
I think it was fairly well-received, and everyone seemed to be interested at least. Hence the conclusion that the topic is one that average readers can relate to… and have an opinion about. Bernanke happened to be there for most of our session (his schedule didn’t allow him to attend the remainder of the conference), and at the end of his prepared remarks he added something along the lines of: “Economists are apparently getting into social psychology, and this is probably a good thing.” We take this as a compliment, but perhaps that’s an example of interpreting all evidence to confirm our priors!
We got a lot less media attention than he did, but a few reports did appear online that summarized and discussed our results, including in the Wall Street Journal econ blog, the New York Times econ blog, and Business Insider. Several of my friends and fellow economists are used to this sort of thing, but it’s new and kind of fun for me. Some of the comments on the web are very amusing, although (honestly!) I didn’t read them all. To be frank I find it somewhat astonishing that there are almost 50 comments (as of now) across the WSJ and NYT, along with people tweeting it and liking it on facebook: e.g. 183 likes so far on the WSJ post! Thank you all, but even I don’t find it that exciting. Also amusing that one headline focuses on the young and one focuses on the old; I couldn’t have guessed which would be more newsworthy.
I’ll finish with a few other anecdotes from the conference:
- The largest financial institutions in France and the UK have assets greater than their respective GDPs (and the ratio in Switzerland is 2.5), which came as a big surprise to me.
- An attendee from the banking industry said that in their world “extremely long-run” = “3-6 months” and that essentially all profits come from short-term trades and deals.
- Someone quoted Kissinger: “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” But don’t jump to any conclusions about the context…