Paul Krugman: 21st Century Howard Beale
In his Times column, Krugman writes mostly as a political scientist, not an economist. So he isn’t even working in his field of expertise. But surely his rigorous intellectual methods, his “pellucid clarity” (in the words of Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council who frequently speaks to Krugman) make him the “rock star” he is?
Not really. The New Yorker profile makes it clear how little of the scientific method Krugman brings to his column. Is he (unlike a scientist, but like any other excitable partisan hack) susceptible to hysterical exaggeration? Yes. (He accused President George W. Bush of “trying to bankrupt Social Security.” Sure. That was Bush’s goal.)
Does he have a scientist’s even, disinterested temperament? No. (At a 2008 election night party Krugman and his wife hosted, guests were encouraged to burn effigies -- presumably George W. Bush was the favorite kind, although the article doesn’t go into detail.)
Is he outside the mainstream? Proudly. (The 2000 election “radicalized” him, says the New Yorker writer).
Does he dump his principles when party-line support renders them inconvenient? Of course. Krugman derided President Bush for running deficits. “Even the most sober observers now talk starkly about the risk to our solvency,” Krugman wrote in 2003. He added, “It's impolite to say that George W. Bush is the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history, but it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.” Today, Krugman thinks President Obama is far too fiscally disciplined and should have pushed for a much bigger stimulus, even as Obama runs up deficits much larger than Bush’s and undreamed of since World War II. And Krugman loved the filibuster when Democrats used it, saying only “extremists” wanted to rid the Senate of this scourge, which was being used to block judicial appointments. Today, with Republicans wielding the filibuster threat to stop a massive health-care bill that is much more of a game-changer than any federal judiciary appointment, Krugman says to “blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable.”
The most memorable sentence among many in the New Yorker profile may be this one: “Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction.” Krugman is a sci-fi creature, a two-headed Godzilla roaring out of both sides of his mouth, and his value to fans isn’t from any cogent, consistent argument, any scientific inquiry, any reasoned insight. They simply love to watch fire come out of his mouth.