Remember “Pop Internationalism?” In that 1998 book Paul Krugman mercilessly mocked a group of non-mainstream pundits who wrote on various trade issues without seeming to have done their homework on the basic theory. I was reminded of that era when I saw Krugman’s newest post, where he seemed positively gleeful to lead a list of 20 “business thinkers.” You might wonder what Krugman is doing on the top of that list, as he’s clearly not a business thinker at all, he’s an economic thinker. And why is he happy to lead the list?
Well I suppose the last question is easy to answer. I would have been happy to lead the list, and I’m also not a business thinker. I’d be happy to lead a list of the top ten serial killers, as long as it was in a major publication. Who doesn’t like to lead a list?
Perhaps I’m interpreting “business thinker” too narrowly, don’t most of those guys (and how can a liberal fail to note the bias in a list where 15 out of 15 are guys), do a lot of economic analysis as well? Indeed they do, but unless I’m mistaken it’s mostly “pop economics,” of the sort that Krugman used to disdain (and perhaps still does.) Indeed even Stiglitz, who Krugman correctly singles out for great praise, is actually something of a pop economist when he delves into macro; his monetary policy pieces are roughly comparable to the pop trade analysis that Krugman criticized in the late 1990s.
I suppose this post will be misunderstood, probably on three counts. So just to clarify:
1. Krugman does deserve to be number one, but on a list of influential “economic thinkers,” not business thinkers. So it’s not about envy . . . well not entirely.
2. I have nothing against “outsider economics.” As frequent readers of my blog must know, I am less than enthralled by the economic elite in macroeconomics, and think the field needs a thorough shaking up. I wrote this post because I couldn’t help of thinking of “Pop Internationalism” when I saw the list.
3. Just because someone is not an economist, doesn’t mean they are doing pop economics. I’ve only read one essay by Bill Gates, but he seemed more mainstream econ than pop econ, for instance.
PS. And yes, I was recently on an even more heterogeneous list, right next to Pussy Riot, so who am I to talk.
PPS. Krugman asks:
. . . on the general principle that if I am not for myself, who will be for me . . .
Um, Brad DeLong?