Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On Economics And Writing

I have mentioned before that Paul Krugman is my favorite economist.

He is my favorite not only because I admire his analysis and find his insights insightful. He is my favorite because his writing is clear and usually to the point. Sometimes I think he misses a point or overemphasizes one issue over another, but usually find him not only on target, but illuminating.

How does he do it?

One of today's blog posts explains:

Paul Krugman
October 22, 2011, 3:02 pm

But, And, Why

Every once in a while I get correspondence from someone chiding me for the way I write — in particular the informality. I received one the other day complaining about sentences that begin with “but” or “and”. There is, however, a reason I write this way.

You see, the things I write about are very important; they affect lives and the destiny of nations. But despite that, economics can all too easily become dry and boring; it’s just the nature of the subject. And I have to find, every time I write, a way to get past that problem.

One thing that helps, I’ve found, is to give the writing a bit of a forward rush, with a kind of sprung or syncopated rhythm, which often involves sentences that are deliberately off center.
More broadly, the inherent stuffiness of the subject demands, almost as compensation, as conversational a tone as I can manage.

My bible in all this is George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. I recommend, in particular, reading his translation of good English, from the King James Bible, into bad modern English. The original:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
The translation:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
Economics writing can all too easily end up sounding like the second version. You might even say that it wants to sound like that. So you have to make a real effort to ensure that it doesn’t.