The New Yorker profiles Paul Krugman

The article is here.  We learn that Krugman and his wife like St. Croix, they have cats named Doris Lessing and Albert Einstein, and there is an interesting discussion of how his wife edits his work.  Excerpt:

Last August, Krugman decided that before he and Wells departed for a bicycle tour of Scotland he would take a couple of days to speak at the sixty-seventh world science-fiction convention, to be held in Montreal. (Krugman has been a science-fiction fan since he was a boy.) At the convention, there was a lot of extremely long hair, a lot of blue hair, and a lot of capes. There was a woman dressed as a cat, there was a woman with a green brain attached to her head with wire, there was a person in a green face mask, there was a young woman spinning wool. There was a Jedi and a Storm Trooper. Those participants who were not dressed as cats were wearing T-shirts with something written on them: “I don’t understand–and I’m a rocket scientist,” “I see dead pixels,” “Math is delicious.” Krugman has always had a nerdy obsession with puns. (He is very proud of a line in one of his textbooks: “Efforts to negotiate a resolution to Europe’s banana split had proved fruitless.”) He also likes costumes. Once, he and Wells gave a Halloween party where the theme was economics topics–two guests came as Asian tigers, several came as hedge funds, one woman came as capital, dressed as a column. Sitting up onstage at the science-fiction convention, Krugman looked happy to be there. It seemed that these were, in some worrying sense, his people.

And this:

Krugman is not a keen traveller. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of his contemporaries set off for Eastern Europe–every economist wanted his own personal country to transition. Jeffrey Sachs, in particular, was all over the place, but Krugman was never tempted. “I know what Jeff does and I couldn’t do it,” he says. “Taking transport planes, living on yak meat for days–no. But I do write faster than anybody. You’ve got to figure out what you should be doing.”

Overall I thought this profile had a lot of substance in it.


"Krugman has been a science-fiction fan since he was a boy"; Dearieme was a science-fiction fan when he was a boy. I suspect the difference is significant.

>> "Krugman has been a science-fiction fan since he was a boy"

That explains a great deal. ;-)

"Both Bishop Muzorewa and Mr. Banana deny any split."

Science fiction for fictional scientists...Oh snap!

In general, the New Yorker always makes a fantastic read. Its the only magazine that can rarely fascinate me with long articles on subjects I have (or thought I had) no interest. It is a credit to Conde Nast that they still put it out through thick and through thin despite it not being profitable to do so. It is nice to see that they value something more than just the bottom line (at times).

As for the science fiction thing, I recall some story about something or another by Heilein being his inspiration to becoming an economist, and I still get a kick out of his joke paper on interstellar trade and how to deal with interest rates when due to relativity and near speed-of-light travel, the amount of time passed is entirely subjective.

I'm also reminded that once upon a time, Clintonian economic policy was very middle of the road and more center-right than anything (free trade, less regulations, etc), but the political spectrum has shifted so much that Clinton is now considered quite liberal. I know that for many of my economic colleagues, this caused the divide between left and right to shoot right past them despite them not changing their beliefs much. I know many people that 15-20 years ago would have called themselves Republicans that now won't despite not changing their opinion on many, if any, economic issues. I suspect this overall shift of the political spectrum should be taken into account when talking of any radicalization.

One of us, is he? Great!

Wow, didn't realize how whipped Krugman is, and how much of his column's tone is really the tone of his angry wife.

"I suspect this overall shift of the political spectrum should be taken into account when talking of any radicalization."

I don't. There hasn't been that much of a shift in the political spectrum. When people speak of Krugman's radicalization (in whatever way they describe it), they are referring to his full-on dive into hyperpartisanship, the unleashing of his vitriolic tendencies, and the deluge of hyperbole he washes over his resultant writings. Sometimes people just show their true selves when given a stage (like the NYT), though obviously his wife has been a catalyst. I would have great difficulty loving, much less living with, such a petty, mean, politically-obsessed mate, whether she shared my ideology or not. (My wife is a humanities Ph.D with strongly liberal social and economic beliefs.)

As for the idea that if you're not pissing people off as a writer you're not doing your job, that's a line that's always caused me to lose some respect for the speaker. Anyone - anyone - can piss people off. Pissing people off is easy. Intentionally pissing people off as SOP is petty, small-minded, and intellectually lazy. Perhaps that's what I find most disappointing about Krugman, as whether he actually made that comment or not, it's certainly the style of his writing over the past decade.

"When people attack personality rather than substance, ...." it means they've realised that substance is temporary, personality is permanent.

What's the only thing with less scoring than a soccer game?

A science fiction fan convention at a singles bar.


I'm not sure Krugman has many problems. He's widely respected and widely read. He's had every professional success and I don't think anyone has a better editorial track record.

It sounds like you are demonizing Krugman because, well, because he likes science fiction, and drinks his coffee with milk. I mean--"arugula munching"! Really!?!

I've always wondered if there was anything capable of making me stop hating Paul Krugman for even a moment, and by gum, that "revelation" about his Sci-Fi bent did it - and I'm not even much of a SF guy myself. Still, he's insufferable.

The best characterization of Paul Krugman that I've ever heard went somthing like this:

"One of the best trade economists of the 1990s has been turning himself into one of the worst macroeconomists of the 1930s."

I don't remember where I saw that. It might have been on this blog.

Translation: "It's a shame Krugman doesn't use his column to endorse my economic ideas."

Have you read what Krugman was writing for Slate, etc. in the 90s? The difference is not in policy positions so much as it is in the choice of issues to focus on, and the way in which he approaches them. The tone is really very different from the way he writes for the NYT today -- and more importantly, the topics are different too. Today Krugman is really a political columnist with a focus on economic issues; in the 90s he actually was an economics columnist, and a damn good one at that. The babysitting co-op has virtually passed into legend as an analogy for the money supply thanks to him, and that's just one example.

I don't even know what Arugula is. Sounds like a character from Star Trek.

All you need to do is compare his writing to Tyler's. If you removed the headers, some of Tyler's writings are so even-handed that someone who didn't know the two might not know who was who, but that "this guy over here sure sounds like partisan hack."

I don't mind hackery, in fact I quite enjoy it. But it is separate and detracts from illucidation. I'm not a critic of Krugman's personality, I'd probably enjoy playing paintball with him, but his style is fair game.

Maybe you can give Krugman the benefit of the doubt and say that he thinks he's being funny, but noone else thinks that. People need to know their place and people who appeal to the authority of their credentials don't need to talk like those of us who don't.

The system is sure working for Krugman, and he manages to sound like the underdog while his guys own the joint. My personal opinion of D.C. pols is the same as my opinion of people who preside over academia. Until they get their own crap-holes cleaned up they have no business giving me their opinion of how I need to change my life.

He may have stuck more to economics topics when writing for Slate than he does now for the
NY Times, but he was perfectly capable of distorting an argument to puff himself up back then.
Thus, there was the infamous incident in which he wrote an article attacking Brian Arthur for
supposedly not having sufficiently cited others in his discussions of increasing returns, which
discussions got a lot of publicity in some pop-schlop books on complexity, such as the one by
Waldrop back in 1993. Krugman was reportedly rotten with jealousy, but held back initially
from going on a rampage by wiser heads. However, then an article in the New Yorker came out
by John Cassidy about problems in economics that favorably discussed Arthur and his views on
complexity and increasing returns without mentioning Krugman. This was too much, and Krugman
unloaded with all barrels blasting.

Shortly thereafter Kenneth Arrow wrote a short reply in Slate basically saying that Krugman
was completely wrong and completely out of line, that Arthur did in fact correctly and
sufficiently cite appropriate sources. Of course, the irony here is that it is Krugman
who has the well-deserved rep for not citing sources, with some of this even entering into
the discussions about whether or not he should have shared his Nobel Prize with some of the
people he failed to cite, although having gone on about this in the past, I shall not do so
further here.

BTW, I do think that a lot of the people complaining about him here are indeed doning so
based simply on the fact that they do not like his political views and are annoyed that he
expresses them very articulately, if not always completely fairly to those he criticizes.
I do not have much use for this sort of whining, which is all too common all over the place.

I assume the last sentence of Tyler is a joke. There is no substance in the article, or nothing new for anyone with average information.

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