One hundred posts later
This is my 100th post on this blog. Since my first post in January 2012, I’ve had 35,563 views of my posts. I know that this is less than more popular blogs receive per day, but I am still astounded that so many people have taken the trouble to read what I’ve written. Especially since I sometimes struggle to even get my wife Helanya to voluntarily listen to my naive (but brilliant!) ideas. (My students have no choice.)
I sometimes (actually, never, but for the sake of the argument let’s go with sometimes) get asked How I Choose My Topics. The last-page-of-Time-interview answer would be: I don’t, they choose me. But that would be a lie. In fact, I sometimes have a hard time finding a topic to write about, which is the reason I struggle to keep to my one-post-per-week rule. Even so, I’ve managed to fit in 100 posts in less than 100 weeks, which shows that I did find something to write about. This is helped by the fact that I live in South Africa where there are enough silly people saying silly things to write several thousand blog posts about.
I know you want to know which one of the 100 is my favourite post. Statistically it seems obvious: The Slow Demise of the Farm Worker received a whopping 6,468 views, 34% of all the posts on my blog (if the figures don’t make sense, it’s because I’ve excluded the 16,803 visits to my Home page, Archives and About page). That post was also responsible for my Most Views per Day-record – 2,655 on 15 November 2012 – and for invitations to write for Rapport, an Afrikaans national weekly, and some consulting work for a farmers organisation. I even received a phone call to appear on an Afrikaans TV-show. But, to be honest, I don’t consider it my best piece. It was actually one of those days when ideas were in short supply. I remember thinking, after finishing the post, that this is little more than reciting a first-year Economics text book. Turns out 6,468 people wanted to know what first-year Economics could tell them about the surging labour unrest.
My favourite post would have to be Stellenbosch, Sandton and Soweto, partly because I think it is still extremely relevant. If I have to identify a theme for my first 100 posts, it would be about incentives and institutions that shape our society, and that post crystallizes most of my thinking about the (formal and informal) incentives post-Apartheid South Africa created. It also stirred some debate, which I had hoped to encourage by my strategically-positioned Coldplay soliloquy “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop”. Although I’ve received excellent feedback – on the blog itself (216 comments, an average of 2 comments per post) but also on Facebook, Twitter and on Finweek’s website, where most of my recent posts have been reposted – I hope to further encourage debate in future.
The community of Economics bloggers in South Africa is still small. Prof Waldo Krugell, department head at North-West University (Potchefstroom campus), leads the charge with his Eat, Sleep, Blog Economics-blog. Nic Spaull, recently elected as one of the 200 coolest young South Africans, is also active. The Econ3x3.org blog, run by editor Frederick Fourie (no relation) and with a prestigious editorial board, is probably best known for policy analysis on Economic issues. Yet the South African network pales in comparison to the active US bloggers like Tylor Cowen’s Marginal Revolution, Noah Smith’s Noahpinion and, of course, Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman who established or expanded their reputation by blogging actively. People (could potentially) ask me whether it takes a lot of time writing a blog. Only about three hours, I’d say, less than half the time many of us spend on Facebook. Hopefully more South African economists will take up the baton.
This is necessary because blogging is increasingly not a domestic affair. Exactly half my viewers have been from South Africa (15,819); the other half have come from 152 countries, including the UK (4,326), India (the first developing country outside South Africa at 406 visitors), Kenya (the first African country outside South Africa at 94), and even far-off places like Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Bahrain and Liechtenstein (all 1). Strangely enough I’ve also only had one visitor from China which, with its more than 1 billion citizens, has contributed less to my readership than visitors from the Occupied Territories of Palestina (3), the Falkland Islands (3) or the Cape Verde islands (2). In marketing terms, this is certainly an exploitable market opportunity. I’m also keen to get my first visitor from South Sudan. I hope to achieve this by writing South Sudan in this post repeatedly. South Sudan. South Sudan. South. Sudan. That should work.
A lot has changed since my first post. Two summers passed. I turned 30. I graduated. Helanya and I moved into our own apartment. (A word of thanks: Helanya still edits nearly all my posts. She has saved me a lot of embarrassment.) My first post on January 22, 2012 was written in the early hours of the morning watching the sun rise. “There certainly will be growing pains. Hurdles. Obstacles. But there is also the joy of new things, of learning and of, well, sending that cosmic question into the void. Let’s fly.”
Time flies when you’re having fun.