417. Twenty years of Pannell Discussions

I put out the first Pannell Discussion on 24 May 2004 so I’ve now been writing them for 20 years. 

My main aim was to communicate economics in ways that a diversity of readers would find interesting and relevant. I’ve always enjoyed reading books on technical subjects written for a general audience, so that was a source of inspiration. Initially, I didn’t think I was writing a blog, just a series of brief articles, but eventually I realised I was.

To get it started, I put together a mailing list of around 100 people I knew who I thought might be interested, and each time I put out a PD, I manually sent them all an email. I made the website manually and it lacked the facility for people to comment on posts, other than by people sending me an email. That happened sometimes, and I used to manually copy their comments onto the ends of the posts.

The mailing list grew slowly but steadily as people asked to be added to it. Existing subscribers told me they were sometimes passing posts onto others, and this led to further requests to be added to the mailing list.

In 2011, after 200 posts, I gave up coding the website myself and converted Pannell Discussions to a normal blog format, using WordPress. As well as saving time, this allows people to make comments directly under each post, and it allowed me to automate the process of sending out an email announcement for each post.

One of the reasons I had been reluctant to make commenting easy was my concern about people making inappropriate, intemperate or unkind comments. I was reading various climate-change blogs at the time and that made me aware of the risk of receiving abuse. In case that happened, I decided to vet each comment before allowing it to appear on the site, and I still do that. However, as it turned out, there have been very few comments that I did not allow to appear. The most memorable and surprising were a set of comments on my post about split infinitives.

Doing these posts has been a real pleasure. I enjoy the creative process of writing, including the challenge of explaining complex issues in a way that is understandable. It has provided a great avenue to distribute and explain my research, including to people who actually use it. There are also posts not on my research directly, but on related issues. And, I occasionally allow myself a self-indulgent post on The Beatles, long jumps, or tourism, as regular readers will have observed.

I plan to retire from UWA at the end of 2025, but I’ll keep writing Pannell Discussions, at least for a while. It would be nice to get to 500 posts. After that, who knows?

Thanks for reading them, especially if you have been doing so for a while. I’d love to see a comment from anyone who has been a subscriber since 2004!