Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman wins Nobel Prize

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in economics today. I'm not a fan of economics in general, but if the Royal Swedish Academy of Science is going to insist on awarding a Nobel Prize for it, Krugman's is well-deserved.

Of course, Krugman is probably best-known now as a New York Times columnist. I first heard of him around 1990, when he was weighing in on debate over trade policy with Japan. His views were nearly the opposite of my own, and as it turned out, he was right and I was wrong. This got my respect, and I've been paying attention to him ever since. Today, I read his column and his blog religiously.

I think this profile aptly sums up what I like most about his "punditry."

But after 9/11, and especially after the war began in Iraq, Krugman judged that his comparative advantage had shifted from being an economist to being a political commentator. He was willing to see things differently because he was not an insider infected by groupthink or the "contagion of mutual imitation" (as the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore put it). The typical insider ("the commentariat") needs "sources" to get information, becomes compromised, and hence is less prone to ruffling feathers. Krugman, by contrast, had the comparative advantage of distance from Washington, D.C., and a full-time job that gave him the independence to be "unrestrained by deference," he explains. He could also do the "budget arithmetic" on his own. So, to him, the normal journalistic ethic of balance and moderation, which he disparagingly dubs "he-said-she-said journalism," was less a virtue than an intellectual shortcoming—an unwillingness or inability to process information independently and come to considered conclusions.

In short, unlike most political commentators today, he isn't a hack for either side. Yes, he's an unabashed "liberal" (for an American), and yes, he prefers to go after right-wing ideas, but he doesn't defend dumbass ideas from the left just because they come from people on his "side."

Plus, also unlike most political commentators, he's right an awful lot of the time. He was right about Iraq (just like yours truly, if I do say so myself) and right about the housing bubble (hilarious link), to cite two recent examples when he bucked the conventional wisdom. After 9/11, when I would look at the world and think, "Am I the only one who sees this?" I could read Krugman and know that there was at least one smart person who was seeing the same things. He was a voice in the wilderness for me.

Krugman also makes economics very clear and easy to understand for laypeople. His blogging about the current financial crisis has been some of the most lucid writing on the subject around. He's a must-read, in my opinion, and any time you say, "What Krugman said," you're unlikely to go far wrong.

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