Imminent Death of the Blogs Predicted, Except Not

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 Phase I: Exchanges in blog comments and e-mail conversations (May 2010 – December 2010)

#2 Phase I: More exchanges in blog comments and e-mail conversations (May 2010 – December 2010)

#3 Phase II: Early blogging period (January 2011 – June 2011)

#4 Phase III: Acceleration of blogging (July 2011)

#5 Phase IV: First mainstream wave and blogger response (July 2011 – August 2011)

#6 Phase V: Post debt ceiling compromise period (August 2011 – December 2012)

#7 Phase VI: Second mainstream wave with blogosphere response (December 2012 – present)

#8 Phase VI: Second mainstream wave with blogosphere response (December 2012 – present)


#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.

UPDATE The power curve continues to increase (same data as searchable and sortable table).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Robert Owens

    The beauty of PCS and the Trillion Dollar Coin ideas is that this thinking points out the sheer silliness of government insolvency. It also shines a brilliant light on how ignorant it is to put financial limits on our society out of fears that we are passing debts on to future generations. Carlos Mucha (Beowulf) had the intuitive sagacity to connect the law with a solution to deficit terrorism. Dr. Joe Firestone deserves a lot of credit for doing what is necessary for a minority view to gain public acceptance. My hat’s off to Dr. Joe Firestone. Thank you Joe and Yves Smith for enlightening the public with your blogs.

    1. Ed

      Thank goodness for blogs; but, what do they accomplish? On one side, they educate the broad public with an antidote to top-down propaganda. On the other side, blogs have not stopped or even apparently slowed the steady march of our society toward a darker future. We keep hitting inflection points which I personally never thought to see. I am both hopeful and hopeless, all at the same time. But, I can’t stop reading blogs, like a moth and the flame.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Clearly the blogs affect the discourse and can help structure the range of policy options that conventional wisdom will accept (see The Overton Window). Even if that’s all they do, that’s a good thing.

        However, I remain hopeful that the networks both technical and personal created by (non-Beltway) blogs will prove more useful over the long haul, a la Committees of Correspondence, Luther’s 99 theses, and so on.

        1. Robert Dudek

          On the other side, blogs have not stopped or even apparently slowed the steady march of our society toward a darker future.

          How do you know they haven’t slowed it? Perhaps the effect if not yet visible but will be some day in the future?

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            On a small, micro scale, there’s no question that some futures have been made brighter: I know of people who have been saved from homelessness, and I know of other people who say posting helped them through not having work (because serial provided structure). If you consider there are many thousands of blogs these effects add up unnoticed. Blogs are not really a “power of weak ties” phenomenon at all; it takes time and effort of cultivate an online persona.

      2. ChrisPacific

        Sadly blogs are often the only source of accurate economic reporting these days. Following financial blogs helped me see the housing crisis coming and avoid making some personal financial decisions that would have ended up being very costly. I was later struck by how spectacularly the MSM had missed the boat on the issue, even though it was obvious if you were looking at the right information. I have since realized that the housing crisis was an orchestrated con job with the MSM acting as an accessory. I no longer believe economics stories that I read in the papers.

      3. different clue

        Blogs shouldn’t be expected to do any of those things. All blogs can do/ should do is let readers read and share and improve and spreadaround information and thoughts and viewpoints. It then becomes up to some of those people to take what they have learned in blogspace back into meatspace and do something analog with it there. Some fraction of blogreaders DO do that. The larger the number of blogreaders sharing/propelling a particular blogtheme/blogmeme . . . the bigger number of people go analog with the material.

        So blogging is a key part of an information weaponization and dissemination process. It is not the blogs’ fault if blogreaders fail to take the weaponised information/concepts and take them back to meatspace and disseminate them/ leverage them in meatspace.

  2. jake chase

    What will probably kill blogging is monitoring by self inflated bloggers who cannot abide disagreement and are never satisfied no matter how many worshipers continue to kiss their ass.

    If the shoe fits, wear it.

    1. Yves Smith


      Keep this up with Lambert and I will get rid of you. While you often make good comments, no one, and I mean no one, is indispensable (“graveyards are full of indispensable men,” Clemenceau and later DeGalle)

      You have an inflated sense of self importance. I don’t know how many times I have said that moderation

      1. Has tripwires, which means they are impersonal and

      2. We get to comment in moderation when we feel like it which is not often, since new posts are higher priority (I have not seen you volunteer to write a big fat check to handle our staff shortage so we could make the mod queue a higher priority) and

      3. Bitching about being in moderation reduces the odds that we’ll approve your comment.

      Lambert tolerates plenty of dissent. He (and I) have no reason to tolerate abuse. Your comment above is abusive. One more like that and I’ll either put you in moderation or worse. So grow up and quit grousing.

      And as Barry Ritholtz’s mod policy indicates, we are far more lenient than a lot of sites:

      This may be a free country, but The Big Picture is my personal fiefdom. I rule over all as benevolent dictator. I will ban anyone whom I choose from posting comments — usually, for a damned good reason, but on rare occasions, for the exact same reason God created the platypus: because I feel like it.

      I encourage a broad range of perspectives, philosophies, market positions, sexual orientations. Dissent is good. I want to see a debate of views, a battle in the market place of ideas ala Thomas Jefferson. You can post on nearly anything, so long as it is at least tangentially related to the topic at hand.

      On occasion, I will “unpublish” a comment if I feel it is too impolite, harsh, ad hominem, inappropriate, or off-topic. Off-topic posts have been rising, and I have taken to unpublishing them en masse. Publish too many comments on a given post (3 or 4 relevant comments out of 30 are fine, 10 out of 30 is excessive). It takes me ~10 seconds to un-publish 10 comments. If you find yourself publishing way too many comments, consider this: This humble blog is my forum for expressing my ideas. Get your own damned blog.

      Lately, I have been doing more than unpublishing nonsense posts — I simply en masse mark them as spam, and kiss that IP address good bye.

      I also have been reviewing the IP addresses of posters, and looking at all of their comments. If they either publish under multiple names (I love a comment and then a subsequent comment agreeing with themselves) or simply post alot of jacked up nonsense, they get the same treatment. They won’t be missed.

      Penalty Box: If you are consistently pushing comments that are off topic, flame baiting, or are inappropriate, but do not quite rise to the level of a full Troll, well we have a solution for you as well: The Penalty Box.

      Do you engage in false rhetoric? Consistently make straw man arguments, ignore logic, don’t use sources or post junk sources? Your comments will be posted — eventually — typically on a 24 hour delay. You can have your say, but you won’t influence the debate, as it will have moved on without you.

      Getting Banned for Life: A few things that will get you permanently banned from commenting at The Big Picture. The fastest way to lose posting privileges is to misrepresent your host’s complex and nuanced views in some inane bumper sticker comment.

      Other fast tracks to getting banned:

      – Knowingly posting false or malicious material;
      – multiple postings under different names;
      – generally engaging in troll-like behavior;
      – misquoting your host/overlord;
      – being impolite in the extreme;
      – ad hominem attacks;
      – being an asshole.

      Right now, someone is reading this and saying to themselves “What does he mean, being an asshole?” If you wondered that to yourself, well the odds strongly favor that you yourself have sphincter-like qualities. Thus, you should consider it likely that you will be banned as a rectoid from posting comments sometime in the near future.


    and has value beyond “blogging is not dead and has a real impact on the discourse and the perception of policy alternatives.”

    In fact, blogging helps me understand that our (humans, not policymakers) possibilities need not be constrained by the limited (due to selfishness) vision of policymakers.

    If you every read any of my comments (anyone?), you’ll note that I rarely, if ever, reference any “experts”. That is because I prefer to have my life influenced by people, and not experts, and that, in great share, includes the commentariats on NC.

    Blogging rocks!

  4. SubjectivObject

    Blogs are ~?90% of my social infomation uptake.
    …. the alternative life of thinly disquised add speak (or the knock-on idiotly infected) …. [shiver] spooky … creepy.

  5. Norman

    Yves, you are much too kind in your above comment. That said, I’ll shut my mouth and go eat breakfast.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorHAL

        I disagree. Blogging does make a difference. Remember what hippies said in the dark days of Vietnam and Nixon: “we have to raise people’s consciousness”. That’s what’s happening here. Our problem is that the armor of lies is case-hardened after so many years of acceptance and repetition. But I think it will be like the parable of the Italian stone mason. He was told to split a huge boulder with his little hand chisel. He started striking at it, blow after blow. Someone came along and asked “why are you wasting your time”? He replied: “just watch”. Then came blow 98, 99…and on the 100th blow the rock split wide open.
        Every little chisel blow helps. Yves keep up the amazing work.

      1. Stratos

        Here is a link to one article about using specially minted coins for the national debt:

        In this 2011 article, Brown states, “…Congress could reclaim the power to issue money from the banks and fund its budget directly. The U.S. could pay its bills using debt-free U.S. Notes or Greenbacks, just as President Lincoln did to avoid a crippling debt during the Civil War. Congress could do this without changing any laws. Congress is empowered to “coin money,” and the Constitution sets no limit on the face amount of the coins. It could issue a few one-trillion dollar coins, deposit them in an account, and start writing checks.”

        Ellen Brown doesn’t refer to specific metals used in the minting of the coins. She simply refers to the coins as “trillion dollar coins”.

      2. Jeff W

        Ms. Brown says that she mentioned the idea in her 2007 book Web of Debt:

        Another alternative was suggested in my book Web of Debt in 2007: the government could simply mint some trillion dollar coins. Congress has the Constitutional power to “coin money,” and no limit is put on the value of the coins it creates, as was pointed out by a chairman of the House Coinage Subcommittee in the 1980s.

        [Link in original]

        On Thom Hartmann’s show [9 December 2008], Brown referred to the idea:

        [Brown]: In fact I read somebody’s opinion, I think it was somebody from the Mint said that you could solve the whole problem by printing, or stamping, ten one-trillion-dollar coins, I mean today, that’s what it would be, and then just pay off the debt with these ten trillion dollars worth of coins. Because there’s no, it doesn’t say in the Constitution what the face value of these coins would be.

  6. Synopticist

    Blogging’s nor dying, it’s getting stronger.

    And thank goodness, because the MSM keeps getting worse.

  7. Valissa

    Genesis of the blogosphere

    How the internet brings us together

    Blogs, a window into the world

    Savage Chickens on blogging

    Bloggers without borders

  8. dirtbagger

    Eventually, the contents of most blogs and their posters becomes fairly predictable. Choosing a path to keep a blog viable and relevant must be a very difficult decision. There is also the issue of blog economics. Growth is expensive and as a blog’s audience grows, they tend to rely more heavily on advertising and site vists to cover costs. Over time, many blogs seem to introduce more and more raw meat opinion pieces on politics or social issues in attempt to keep their readers engaged and returning to the site.

    Sites such as the Smirking Chimp, which originally posted insightful articles on the political process, has evolved into a predictable oped site. Like so many others, it is where one can go to seek confirmation for one’s own biases.

    Zero Hedge is another site long gone from the favorites bar. It orignally focused on markets and trading, but has slowly evolved into a borderline crazy site with posters who seem to hate about every body and everything in the US except their guns and gold. I would contrast ZH with Calculated Risk which seems to have a MO of “just the facts maam” and seldom offer opinions or predictions.

    Kudos to NC for posting mostly posting timely and insightful information on the US monetary system and continuing my financial education. Also kudos for not too often straying into partisan politics.

  9. Tim

    Blogging would probably die a natural death one way or another if media always told the truth, questioned the status quo, focused on the most important issues not the most popular.

    Said another way, blogging is immortal.

  10. JEHR

    I would be interested in the analysis of the progress of Modern Monetary Theory over time just to see how long it will take to get to step #8. Somebody should be talking to Jack Lew right now!

    Blogs have been my source of information on the financial crisis for about three years. Reading a newspaper account of anything financial is very unenlightening.



      You are very correct. I misspent my youth reading newspapers. At a certain age, I began to be involved in newsworthy events. Whenever I’d read the news reports, about events with which I had firsthand knowledge, I could see just how bad the newspaper reports were.

  11. steve from virginia

    What is this article about? Is it about the silly platinum coin idea or about the Internet?

    After all the silly ideas are tried the irrefutable facts will remain: we cannot conjure ‘prosperity’ without resources, building national prosperity on wanton capital waste is self-destructive. That is the curve we are on the far side of …

    1. Nathanael

      But we *have* resources: labor (and lots of it); sunlight (and lots of it)….

      …we have been engaged in a vast misallocation of resources for a very long time, creating the fossil-fuel-dependent economy, but we can reverse that.

      Obviously we have to stabilize the world population too, but giving women education and access to birth control seems to do that all by itself.

  12. Furzy Mouse

    fantastic work Lambert, just remember, what goes up usually comes down!! especially after going parabolic….or the attention span of the zeitgeist wanders to fixate on another hat trick =:)

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