October 23, 2003 | 0 comments
The double world of Paul Krugman.
A recent graduate of Princeton reports that professor Paul Krugman could be sighted there dressed in an unusual uniform: jacket, dress shirt, and tie on top, short shorts down below.
Viewers nationwide watching Krugman’s television appearances made from an on-campus broadcast studio had no idea he was appearing without his pants on.
It’s an appropriate metaphor for the work of the Nobel laureate economist, author, New York Times columnist, and regular panelist on ABC’s This Week. On one half, there is the veneer of respectability, the association with prestigious institutions such as Princeton (alma mater of Steve Forbes and George Shultz, home of professor Robert P. George’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions) and the Nobel Prize in economics (also won by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek). On the other half—the bottom half—are Krugman’s exposed legs.
Maybe some policeman in a tropical clime (Krugman reportedly has a beachfront condo in St. Croix) could carry the outfit off successfully, but just the memory of the sartorial choice of Krugman brought a chuckle from the former student. Any conservatives tempted likewise to dismiss Krugman as a cartoonish laughingstock should beware, though: The joke may be on all of us. One of the people who takes Krugman’s advice seriously is the man who just won a second term in the Oval Office.
FOR CONSERVATIVES and even for thinking liberals, Krugman presents such an inviting target for ridicule that an assignment to dissect his work seems almost unsporting, like an invitation to a canned hunt.
So here, just for fun, are a few of my favorite Krugman examples.
There was his New York Times blog post marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with the claim, “The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.” He concluded, “I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.” (As if he has the power to disallow those of us who are still proud of the New York City firefighters and of Todd “Let’s Roll” Beamer from commenting on his shame.)
Then there is Krugman’s contention, in his 2007 book Conscience of a Liberal, that “the most important, sustained source” of conservative electoral strength “has been race—the ability to win over a subset of white votes by catering, at least implicitly, to their fear of blacks.” This is a major argument of his book. Krugman restates it later, writing, “The principal reason movement conservatives have been able to flourish here, while people with comparable ideas are relegated to the political fringe in Canada and Europe, is the racial tension that is the legacy of slavery.” Somehow Mr. Krugman fails to confront, or manages to omit, that these supposedly racist Republicans appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and Condoleezza Rice as secretary of State, and that one of President George W. Bush’s signature domestic policy initiatives was a law aimed at narrowing the racial achievement gap in primary and secondary education by increasing and restructuring public-school spending under the supervision of a black secretary of education, Rod Paige.
There was Krugman’s prediction in a 1996 essay in USA Today that “designing a robot that can vacuum your living room” is “an achievement that is still probably many decades away.” Less than six years later, the living room–vacuuming robot named Roomba was introduced commercially, with great success. It had been invented by scientists at MIT, where Krugman spent 20 years as a graduate student and a professor. Maybe that’s why he wrote “probably,” though it doesn’t account for why he wrote “many decades” instead of just “decades.”
But don’t just take it from me. The Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, Cass Sunstein, who served in the Obama White House, writes that Krugman’s prose makes the columnist sound “arrogant and self-absorbed.”
George Will, Krugman’s fellow panelist on ABC News’ This Week Sunday show, recently admonished the professor, “I have yet to encounter someone who disagrees with you who you don’t think is a knave or corrupt or a corrupt knave.”
This has gotten to be too much even for the New York Times, where the editor overseeing Krugman in the 2000 presidential campaign, Howell Raines, imposed a formal ban on Krugman’s using the word “lie.” Alas, the ban was apparently lifted, or its enforcement lapsed, after the end of the campaign and the departure of Raines.
David Warsh, the former economics columnist of the Boston Globe whose book Krugman gave an effusively positive review in the Sunday Times Book Review, wrote, “Krugman, when he makes his arguments, can’t keep his thumb off the scale, an unfortunate tendency that often undermines their force.…Two words you won’t find in Krugman’s dictionary are ‘exculpatory evidence.’”
The chairman of the Harvard economics department, Greg Mankiw, recently noticed that Krugman had flip-flopped on the danger of the federal budget deficit’s effect on interest rates, blithely dismissing worries during the Obama administration after harping over similar concerns during George W. Bush’s tenure. A 2010 study of 17 prominent economists found Krugman was the most inconsistent of the group, changing his views depending on which party controlled the White House. To Mankiw’s criticism, Krugman replied, “I’ve learned some things and changed some of my views.”