By lambert strether. Original version published at Corrente.
There’s been some loose talk lately that the blogosphere is no longer “vital.” And indeed some blogs are ripe for disintermediation; who needs partisan blogs when you’ve got The Party? And who needs who needs Kos when you’ve got Maxim?
But to those who say that blogging is dead, I say, take a look at this chart:
It shows how a single comment ignited a media and policy explosion* two-and-a-half years later. Does that look like a power curve to you, or what?
The chart above is a postage stamp-sized version of the History of the Proof Platinum Coin Concept, 2010-2013 timeline** — each of the tiny black horizontal lines is a link to a piece of content, and the links stack up vertically by date. (There are also larger, post card-sized images of the timeline below, annotated in Skitch.) Now, I should say that the timeline is just a super-duper aggregation or link-fest; there’s very little interpretation or analysis. (For that, see Joe Firestones’s series on How the Proof Platinum Coin Concept was Propagated, especially Chapter 1: “Origin and Early History of Platinum Coin Seigniorage In the Blogosphere”.) Still, we can observe a lot by watching.
0. It’s beautiful and fitting that the Proof Platinum Coin (PPC) power curve has its fons et origo at a blog named “The Center of the Universe” (see slide #1, below).
1. The power curve is also shaped like an incoming tide: Each wave is higher than the wave before, but there are periods of relative stillness and inactivity between the waves. I believe that the waves are recurrent budgetary crises: At each crisis, the PPC solution appears more attractive, or at least more chatter-worthy, possibly because alternatives have proven infeasible.
2. The distribution of the posts follows a power law. One reason for that distribution would be the propagation of the Proof Platinum Coin (PPC) concept through a scale free network, which the Internet is known to be. On the left, starting with a single comment (Phase 1, below) we have a horizontal “long tail” of comments and sparse posts. On the right (Phase 6, below) we have a “head” going vertical as the concept propagates explosively. Epidemics follow a similar pattern. So does whatever “goes viral.”
3. Not all inflection points are visible. For example, email correspondence (Phase I, first slide) between PPC advocates is important, but isn’t public, so can’t go on the record. Similarly, an interview that ends up on radio or TV will appear here; but an interview that ends up on the cutting room floor will not. Both may be equally important from the standpoint of outcomes, but only one appears on the record.
* * *
Slides are numbered #1, #2… and captioned by phase. Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.
#1, #2, #3 Although a comment did indeed light the PPC fuse, from the standpoint of propagation (as opposed to the history of ideas) posts (Phase I, second slide and Phase II) are in general more likely to mark phase changes or inflection points than comments. First, many comments are lost through system changes, or are trapped in Disqus-like systems, unlinkable. Second, posts tend to have human-readable URLs, and so more readily linkable from other blogs. Third, search engines, tracking software, and crawlers catalog posts by URL, and not comments. Finally, most comments are simply not interesting enough to track; and if we had to, we’d need a data center like the NSA’s in Utah.
#4 In Phase 3, the slope of the power curve increases, as posts move outside the initial “long tail” incubator into other MMT-friendly sites and the econoblogger community; importantly, Cullen Roche.
#5 Phase 4 presents an important inflection point, as PPC enters the mainstream through Felix Salmon of Reuters, Matt Yglesias, and influential law blogger Jack Balkin. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that PPC was presented in Naked Capitalism (third ranked econoblog by traffic) immediately before the new phase began. Felix Salmon linked to Corrente; Matt Yglesias was prompted to cover the PPC by a reader citing Beowulf at FDL; and Balkin cites to the same Beowulf post, as well as a post by letsgetitdone, this time at FDL. Other MMTers and econobloggers like Warren Mosler, Tom Hickey, and Scott Sumner pile on.
#6 Phase 5, with the 2011 debt ceiling compromise, amplifies PPC’s mainstream presence, with Krugman and the Economist joining in for the first time, and bloggers and mainstreamers continuing their activity.
#7 Phase 6 begins with 2012’s “Fiscal Cliff.” For the first time, a top conservative think tank, AEI, posts on PPC. This seems to open the floodgates, and the slope of the power curve increases again. For the first time (that we know of so far) PPC appears on TV (CNBC), and begins to thoroughly penetrate the political class: Atrios is the key bellwether here.
#8 Phase 6 continues, with PPC entering electoral politics as Jerry Nadler (D-NY) endorses it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Paul Krugman (D-Izvestia) endorsed it the same day, given what House Leader John Boehner did to New York’s expectations for relief following Hurricane Sandy.
So there I will end. I make no judgment on outcomes (though I agree with letsgetitdone on what’s at stake). However, I do think the data presented here shows definitively that blogging is not dead and has a real impact on the discourse and the perception of policy alternatives. In addition, I think the phases (hat tip, letsgetidone) may turn out to be a useful analytical tool for other campaigns. Beginning with a comment and ending with electoral politics is not such a bad transition!
NOTE Thanks to many for links on the timeline, including letsgetitdone, Stephanie Kelton, and especially to Cullen Roche for rescuing early comments on PPC from undeserved obscurity.
NOTE * And a sausage-making explosion too, at least in early 2013, but that’s a metaphor that just screams “Don’t go there!”
NOTE ** Flipped for aesthetics, so that the curve points upward and not down, as on the actual timeline. Yes, I made the chart by pasting together screen dumps. Too low tech, but I haven’t figured out how to drive a chart like this from data yet.