Streetwise Professor

January 6, 2010

Happy Birthday to SWP

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 2:28 pm

Even if I do say so myself.

Yes, today is the 4th anniversary of the launch of SWP.  Its evolution has been a surprise to me, in many ways, most notably in the fact that this idiosyncratic/eccentric blog has attracted far more readers than I had ever anticipated.  That’s a great birthday present, for which I am very, very appreciative.  A hearty and humble thanks to all of you.

And now for a little navel gazing retrospection.

I originally started the blog to be a way of commenting, in real time, about things related to my professional, academic interests.  It has served that purpose, and there’s been a lot to write about.  Ironically, my first substantive post was about a technical malfunction at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and last week the TSE rolled out a new trading system designed to address the problems that shut it down when the blog started.  But there have also been exchange mergers, intense controversies over energy markets and speculation, stories about manipulation, and perhaps surprisingly, numerous developments in the previously arcane and largely hidden world of clearing, something I’d written about as an academic for almost 10 years to the collective yawn of my colleagues and the profession generally.

The posts I’ve written about these subjects have received some interest, stirred some controversy at times, and now and then have had some policy impact.  A little bird told me that one post in particular caused “several senators’ heads to explode” (I love the smell of napalm in the morning!) and resulted in some uncomfortable moments for some Bush administration officials.  (Yes, rkka, Bush administration officials.)   I know that the clearing stuff in particular has at least contributed to the policy debates on the subject, in part because it cuts against the grain of the post-crisis conventional wisdom.

The financial crisis of course played a big role in SWP over the past year.  I’ve often felt like a seismologist must during “the big one.”  At once fascinated by the opportunity to witness historical events involving instruments and institutions that I’ve written about (largely in academic obscurity) for years beforehand, and simultaneously more than a little uncomfortable at getting so much intellectual stimulation/satisfaction out of what were truly traumatic developments.

But the biggest surprise in the development of the blog is the whole Russia thing.  Perhaps it was meant to be: a Russian visitor was sitting next to me in my home office, writing applications for internships here in the US while I was writing the first SWP post four years ago.  But writing about Russia wasn’t even in the back of my mind when I started SWP.  Like Topsy, the idea just growed.

People ask me all the time: what’s the deal with you and Russia?  Why do you write about it so much?  Well, it’s a mixture of a lot of things.  As an aspiring US Navy officer in the late-1970s, the USSR was obviously a major matter of interest and concern.  After my aspirations took a U-turn, I had the opportunity to take a Russian history course from the amazing Arcadius Kahan at the University of Chicago, and sat in on some lectures from the almost as amazing Richard Hellie.

The interest went dormant for some years as I pursued my professional goals, but was reignited by a variety of things.  Notably, my increasing involvement in energy-related issues as an academic, and my longstanding fascination with institutional economics and property rights issues and the intersection between politics and economics.  The summer before SWP, I wrote a piece for Energy World magazine called “Just Say No–to Gazprom” that was my first foray into writing about Russian energy politics.  It soon became clear to me that Russia represented a fascinating case study in the effects of resource intensity (and arguably dependence) on economic development and the evolution of economic institutions.  Also, Russia is sufficiently like the West, and sufficiently engaged with it, to be familiar and not too alien, but different enough to provide interesting contrasts and cross-sectional variation.  (China, in contrast, being a blank slate and otherworldly place to me.)  Put all that together with my tendency to go overboard in my intellectual enthusiasms, and well, here we are.

There is also an element of Skinnerian conditioning involved.  The Russia material has–overwhelmingly–attracted the most comment and attention.  It’s always more rewarding to write about something that people seem to care about enough to react to, so it’s fair to say that like the rat pushing the little bar and getting food in return, SWP has focused more on Russia because that’s where the positive reinforcement is.  And believe it or not, I view even the critical comments positive reinforcement, because it lets me know you care enough to write 🙂  To paraparhase what Brendan Behan said about publicity, there’s no such thing as a bad comment, except on your obituary.

Truth be told, the blog has absorbed more of my time than I’d anticipated.  Mrs. SWP claims she has a love-hate relationship with it (the blog! the blog!); she likes the fact that it’s attracted some attention and gives me an outlet, but hates how it has the tendency to become a time sink.  As in all things, achieving balance in this is tricky.

That’s the past.  What about the future?  Well, if anything, the history of this blog has reinforced my agreement with the old saw that it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.  SWP reacts to the world, for the most part, and the world moves in strange ways.  It’s likely that the main subjects–derivatives markets, Russia, military developments, AGW, and from time-to-time, politics–will remain the focus in the future, but as for the specifics–who knows?

All I can say is that I hope whatever the future holds, you all continue to check in from time to time, and that new folks join in.  Thanks again for your time and interest, and “see” you soon.

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  1. Craig, I join you wishing Happy Birthday to SWP 🙂

    Comment by MJ — January 6, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Happy birthday and please keep it up. I find your Russian posts very insightful and a valuable contribution to my thinking about the place.

    Comment by Gaw — January 6, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  3. Congratulations, Professor! Your blog is truly a great source of information, analysis, and quality thinking that contributes real value to the online debate.

    We hope you keep up the good work for many more birthdays to come!


    Comment by James — January 6, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  4. Happy Birthday, SWP !

    While you are in a good mood, I’ll use this moment to ask for a favor.

    I want to research similarity between economic philosophies of classical fascism (Italian) and American liberalism/progressives.
    Which PhD program should I select?

    1. Economics?
    2. Political science?

    I know that the field of political science is populated mostly by left-wing types, but that is not a problem. I can argue in favor of government control and even prohibition of all things related to the Wall Street as a real left-wing loonie. Fascists and liberals have a lot in common, so I will have no problem to present myself as a liberal.

    Thank you very much, SWP, and let me wish you a long life on your birthday !

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — January 6, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

  5. MV–Econ has more than its share of left-wing types too, so I wouldn’t let that be a deciding factor.

    It largely depends on your quant skills. Econ programs now select almost exclusively on high math gmats, with preference to those already holding advanced degrees in a scientific discipline or mathematics. In my view, it’s a bad system, but that’s how it is. I can also state that it is highly unlikely that any mainstream econ department would be supportive of your proposed research agenda.

    Poli sci is less quant obsessed, and has a broader diversity of issues that are of interest to those running PhD programs, esp. on topics related to political-economic interactions.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for your good wishes.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 6, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

  6. Thank you very much, Professor !

    Now another quick question, for which I’d accept a simple yes or no.
    Do I have a chance to prove that liberalism is just a stupid version of fascism?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — January 6, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  7. Dr. Pirrong congratulations and keep up the great work.

    Comment by Allan Schoenberg — January 6, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

  8. Along the lines of your roosha interests, here is a “birthday present” for you:

    Russia buys Ukrainian Donbass, takes over Hungary’s Dunaferr with it

    The article stats that this has implications for the Ukrainian Presidential elections – hint: roosha backs off asking for penalties from Ukraine in return for ??????. Also has implications for Gazprom trying to take over everything in Europe.

    The Financial Times has a slightly different take on this:

    Russians Circle Ukraine Group

    Comment by elmer — January 7, 2010 @ 10:44 am

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