[via Atanu] Hal Varian has an essay on “how I came to be a columnist, and how I go about writing the columns.”
My view is “Power corrupts, and Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.” I generally avoided Powerpoint unless I really needed it. The way I see it, Powerpoint is fine for presentation. But if you are just going to give a talk then you should do it without mechanical aids. I found that people paid a lot more attention to what I was saying when I just spoke.
The great thing about writing the Economic Scene column is that you can avoid Baker’s panic-if you can’t think of something to write about yourself, you can just write about someone else’s ideas.
This is a fantastic help, since there is no end of interesting economic material being written. Since essentially no one reads those papers-except for other economists-there is a vast reservoir of untapped material.
What I try to do is to take some current event-Social Security, or drug prices, or technology-and find some relevant work in economics. Sometimes it is recent work, sometimes several years old. And then I try to explain how this economic thinking casts light on the issues being debated.
It doesn’t always work like this. Sometimes I come across an interesting working paper or recent publication and I use that as the basis for the column.
Sometimes someone (usually a non-economist) will ask me about something and this will inspire me to write a column explaining the economists viewpoint.
And sometimes I even have an idea of my own.