The Case For Jargon

Daniel Altman offers some advice on “how to write about economics for a lay audience,” paired with a critique of something I wrote.

I think it’s mostly good advice, but I did want to disagree with him about one thing in particular, namely jargon. I use economist jargon when I write about economic topics for a reason—economists use it to, and I want someone who reads my stuff to be able to dive deeper and be equipped to read economics papers and have conversations with honest to god PhD-wielding economists. What’s more, a lot of the time the jargon is there for a reason. I’ll freely admitted that insisting on peppering your prose with “real wages” versus “nominal wages” can be off-putting to a reader, but the distinction is important enough that if you try to avoid the “real”/”nominal” distinction you end up creating new problems. Altman, for example, ends up referring to “actual wages” in his proposed re-write, but readers are only going to get confused over time if you try to adhere to that. I am personally not a fan of the economist’s use of “real” since I think it creates the implication that nominal quantities are somehow fake, but the jargon is what it is and I think it’s best to just try to use it so that readers can, over time, learn how to use it themselves.