May 25, 2005

#182: A "guest" writer's opinion...

P. Krugman


Paul Krugman is so boring to us these days we thought we would have a"guest" writer of a sort give some perspective on this wacky guy. The following is a Fortune magazine interview with N. Gregory Mankiw the outgoing Chairman of the the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Read the whole thing from the link below.

In this segment Mankiw is being asked by writer Peronet Despeignes about outside views of how the President's office works.

Q: How do you deal with this view of the decision-making process there? What do you hear from professors here at Harvard?

A: There are a lot of preconceived notions from people in the media who write stuff based on no knowledge at all. There are a lot of people who just make stuff up.

Q: So you often read the paper and slap your forehead?

A: Let me give you example. This is as I was arriving [as the new chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers]. Glenn Hubbard, my predecessor, was leaving. I read one of Paul Krugman's New York Times’ columns, and he said something like, "Hubbard said he was leaving to be with his family, but you could see the knives sticking out of his back." The suggestion was that he's being kicked out. I knew that wasn't true. I knew I got the job in large part because Glenn recommended me. So here we have Krugman sitting in some office in New Jersey making a supposition about what's going on in Washington and then writing for the New York Times, with readers presuming that he knew something.

Q: Krugman is a very respected economist. What are your thoughts on his transformation into a columnist?

A: I had Paul as a teacher at MIT. And when I was at CEA in '82 and '83, he was there as well. I was a junior staffer in the Reagan administration. Two members of the senior staff were Krugman and (former Harvard economics professor, Clinton Treasury Secretary and current Harvard president Lawrence) Summers. At that time he was a brilliant economist. I thought he'd win a Nobel prize. I think there's a good chance he still will. His early work on international trade theory deserves it.
It's strange what's happened since then. When he became a New York Times columnist, he decided to abandon writing about economics as an economist does. He's very liberal, which is fine—most of my friends at Harvard are liberal—but whenever someone disagrees with him, his first inclination is to think that person is either a liar or a fool. It's amazing to me that an academic would behave that way. The one thing that I value about academia is open-mindedness, the premise that all ideas and different points of view should be considered. No one has a monopoly on the truth. The one defining characteristic of a good professor is to be open to all viewpoints.

Q: How do you explain what you describe as this change in Krugman?

A: I guess if you're a columnist, you want to be widely talked about and be the most e-mailed. It's the same thing that drives talk show hosts to become Jerry Springer. You end up overstating the case because it makes good reading. The problem is that economists by their nature—with a lot of "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" in their prose—can make boring reading.

[Krugman could not be reached for comment by presstime.]

We love the Jerry Springer analogy. Sorry we didn't think of it ourselves.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Posted by John Weidner at May 25, 2005 10:30 AM
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