Do Writers add Value?

by F.

As someone who makes (a tiny amount of) money writing, I was gratified by James Surowiecki’s last article in The New Yorker, because it reminded me that writers may have a comparative advantage over non-writers after all.

The topic of Surowiecki’s piece is the deadweight loss of Christmas—a topic that has been discussed in the blogosphere for a while by a number of people far more knowledgeable about economics than Surowiecki. Even the sources Surowiecki uses are nothing new. He cites a paper by Sara Solnick and David Hemenway which has been widely discussed. He cites a study by Davy Lerouge and Luk Warlop, which is recent but which, too, has gotten a lot of ink. He discusses a paper by Waldfogel from 1993. And he discusses the cost of gift cards. Again, nothing groundbreaking.

And yet, Surowiecki’s piece is far better than anything I read on the blogs (though The Economist had a nice piece on the same topic—in 2001). Why? Because he’s a writer. The sources may be the same; there may be no new news there. But he wraps it up in a nice package and makes it fun to read, which is the writer’s comparative advantage.