Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fun with Google Ngrams

I saw a link on Marginal Revolution to the Google Ngram Viewer. It tells you how often a phrase occurred in the books contained in Google Books. My first thought was that Deirdre McCloskey should play around with it a bit, since her most recent work deals with the importance of language and other factors in allowing the industrial revolution and economic growth. For example, consider this ngram of bourgeoisie. Or maybe don't; it only shows how many times the word occurs. McCloskey would be interested in how the word is used--is it an epithet or used to praise?

So then I started wondering who's been mentioned more in recent years, and I decided to type in those two figures who towered over economics in the 20th century, Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes. Here's what you get. I recommend clicking the link; the graphs below are tiny by comparison.

I think it nicely reflects their roles over the last century, up until the last few years, when Keynes has made a resurgence. The graph doesn't seem to reflect that, at least, not in 2007 and 2008. Hyman Minsky is barely visible by comparison to both of them, so I won't even include that graph here.

I wondered how some other famous economists would compare. My expectation was that Adam Smith would be big, but I didn't realize how big:


Wow. He's surpassed by Marx in the 60s until the 90s (which fits with the times, I suppose, but is nonetheless frustrating), but otherwise Adam Smith seems to tower over the other big names. I was sad to see David Ricardo with so few mentions. For the sake of Austrians out there I threw Ludwig von Mises in, too. Sorry, Austrians; even Paul Krugman is getting more mentions than Mises nowadays (note that the frequency with which an economist is mentioned does not suggest that they are wiser or more correct).

Who are the other big names I should be putting in here? It would probably be best to drop Adam Smith and Karl Marx from any comparisons you do with any modern economists; they are mentioned so often that they make modern economists hard to see on the graph.

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