Aspie Economists
Thumb sailer
April 29, 2011, 03:43 AM
Print Friendly and PDF

Here`s a long article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Paul Krugman`s personality, such as it is. Economists have been called "worldly philosophers," but a lot of them come across as being awfully out of touch. For example, this article uses Krugman`s long relationship with Larry Summers to help explain Krugman. By contrast to Krugman, when it comes to being a people person, Summers is practically Oprah. Yet, Summers was a notorious failure in the fairly easy job of being president of Harvard.

Wallace-Wells does do a good job of zeroing in on Krugman`s best piece of writing:

Back in 2006, when he was writing The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman found himself searching for a way to describe his own political Eden, his vision of America before the Fall. He knew the moment that he wanted to describe: the fifties and early sixties, when prosperity was not only broad but broadly shared. Wells, looking over a draft, thought his account was too numerical, too cold. She suggested that he describe his own childhood, in the ­middle-class suburb of Merrick, Long Island. And so Krugman began writing with an almost choking nostalgia, the sort of feeling that he usually despises: "The political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional moment in our nation`s history..."

Krugman remembers Merrick in these terms, as a place that provoked in him "amazingly little alienation." "All the mothers waiting to pick up the fathers at the train station in the evening," he says, remembering. "You were in an area where there were a lot of quiet streets, and it was possible to take bike rides all over Long Island. We used to ride up to Sagamore Hill, the old Teddy Roosevelt estate." The Krugmans lived in a less lush part of Merrick, full of small ranch ­houses each containing the promise of social ascent. "I remember there was often a typical conversational thing about how well the plumbers-basically the unionized blue-collar occupations-were doing, as opposed to white-collar middle managers like my father."

This starting point, which is awfully similar to where I`m coming from (see my post above about Mildred Pierce`s L.A., in which Benjamin Schwarz eloquently describes our shared appreciation of the Paradise for the Common Man), potentially opened up for Krugman the opportunity to develop a more wide ranging critique of What Went Wrong. Was it merely tax cuts? At times, he`s dipped his toe in the heretical possibility that, say, massive immigration wasn`t wholly an unmixed blessing to somebody with his vision of the Good Society, only to quickly run back up on the beach.

Now, obviously, even Paul Krugman is under a lot of career pressures to Not Talk About Unpleasant Topics. But, Wallace-Wells could have pointed out the important effects of Mrs. Krugman, a blue-eyed, long-haired woman who strongly self-identifies as black, has had on keeping Mr. Krugman on the politically correct straight and narrow, and pushing him toward his present view that racism is the root of all Republican evil. There was a period in the 1990s, when Krugman appeared to be developing in an interesting direction intellectually (here`s his excellent attack on Stephen Jay Gould). But the advent of Mrs. K. seems to have coincided with putting the kibosh on his tendencies toward crimethink.