Pop goes the Krugman?

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?

HT:  TravisV



27 Responses to “Pop goes the Krugman?”

  1. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    3. July 2013 at 19:17

    Right, of course there are problems with Krugman but he is so so so SO much better than Stiglitz and almost everyone else.

    I’m rather puzzled why Krugman goes out of his way to praise Stiglitz. What’s going on there? Krugman is a serious and thorough advocate for the left while Stiglitz is an unserious and lazy one. Wouldn’t Krugman benefit if more people recognized that?

  2. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    3. July 2013 at 19:19

    Krugman in the post above:


    “the fact that Joe Stiglitz is up there makes me more optimistic about the world; as I’ve written in the past, he’s an insanely great economist, in ways that you really can’t comprehend unless you do economic modeling, but until now I would never have envisioned him having the kind of reach he now does.”

  3. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. July 2013 at 20:52

    A little bit of a digression, though perhaps relevant:

    I can remember when we had a mainstream media. That was CBS, NBC, ABC, NYT, WSJ, WaPo, AP-UPI, Time, Newsweek and maybe USN&WR and a couple other outfits.

    Today it has been splintered into a thousand pieces.

    Yet, we still hear caterwauling against “the mainstream media.”

    Usually, ranting against the “mainstream media” or other “mainstreams” means there are views out there different from your own, and few believe your view.

    I have proudly been against the mainstream my whole life—except the stream became of tortured trickle. I am still agin’ it.

  4. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    3. July 2013 at 22:12

    Krugman is neck and neck with The Onion on Technorati:

    Yet he doesn’t seem to understand that this was accomplished by turning his column into a farce.

  5. Gravatar of Further reading Further reading
    4. July 2013 at 00:00

    […] – Pop goes the Krugman? […]

  6. Gravatar of Luis Pedro Coelho Luis Pedro Coelho
    4. July 2013 at 00:22

    Of course, Krugman needs to go out of his way to praise Stiglitz BECAUSE Stiglitz is not taken very seriously.

    Linus Pauling was a genius quantum physicist. After the Nobel prize, he went wacky. And let’s not get started on the guy who got the Nobel for finding HIV. What a lunatic that man became.

    (There was this American president who got a Peace Prize and then started jailing whistle blowers in solitary. Sorry, that was a cheap shot.)

  7. Gravatar of MikeF MikeF
    4. July 2013 at 03:53

    From a non-economist…I think everyone is trying to figure out where the economy is going and what is going on with the economy. That is one of the reasons I started reading some of the econ blogs. Luckily for me I found you and Lars…and others evidently listen to Stiglitz. I saw a utube clip with him debating the Greece situation prior to the collapse…are you kidding me? I have goggled him also…but for comic relief.. So I read Lars paper that showed the correlation between the stock market and QE…so sold all my bonds in my 401K at the beginning of QE3 and bought into the market..thank you! Best business advice I have ever received.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. July 2013 at 05:07

    Mike, Glad to be of service.

  9. Gravatar of rob rob
    4. July 2013 at 05:20

    Having studied Stiglitz’s microeconomic models that deal with information there really can be no doubt he is an amazing economist, one whose ability will always far eclipse my own. No one can work through Stiglitz’s models without understanding his genius. His main microeconomic flaw is his ignorance of public choice economics(selective ignorance he understand the businesses rent seeking part pretty well, just not the non benevolent government part…). That said I have no idea what happens with him when he starts thinking in terms of Macro. He wrote a whole book that essentially claimed inequality causes economic turmoil because the rich have lower MPC, what an utterly silly idea to a student who has even just mastered basic AD-AS. Stiglitz to me me serves as a cautionary tale of economists that venture outside of their field of expertise, or perhaps he is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of arrogance.

  10. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    4. July 2013 at 09:22

    ‘Um, Brad DeLong?’

    Don’t forget ‘Bobby’, the keeper of the Krugman shrine.

    And, on the 4th of July we should keep in mind what one of the most astute observers of young America thought;


    ‘The people have neither the time nor the means for an investigation of this kind [to form a just estimate of the character of a single individual]. Their conclusions are hastily formed from a superficial inspection of the more prominent features of a question. Hence it often happens that mountebanks of all sorts are able to please the people, while their truest friends frequently fail to gain their confidence.’

  11. Gravatar of John Papola John Papola
    4. July 2013 at 12:10

    Yikes, that list is stomach-turning. Robert Reich, Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman as leading business thinkers? I guess if you have no particular interest in building a business that actually produces value, they’re your guys. After all, these three amigos have each advocated increased consumption, ditch digging and military buildup for a fake alien showdown as paths to prosperity. Joe Stiglitz has blamed the depression on increased farming productivity. Perhaps if we cured all disease with a miracle pill, he’d fret over the destruction of medical jobs as well!

    We are living in the dark ages of economics.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. July 2013 at 13:13

    Patrick, Who is Bobby?

  13. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    4. July 2013 at 14:32

    That last line had me laughing my ass off.

  14. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    4. July 2013 at 14:40

    Krugman gets righteous…flays the folks who are calling for the Fed to stop its bond purchases.

    M&M’s that are aware of their self-interests will enjoy it.


  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. July 2013 at 05:35

    Thanks Bill.

  16. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    5. July 2013 at 06:25

    Krugman is influential mainly because he’s willing to toss his left-wing base huge hunks of red meat. Taking him seriously on any issue with even a whiff of politics is probably a mistake.

  17. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    5. July 2013 at 06:44

    He wrote a whole book that essentially claimed inequality causes economic turmoil because the rich have lower MPC

    Of course Acemoglu’s book makes mincemeat of that causation, turmoil in poor countries is generally caused by coercive redistribution to politically connected elites — it’s primarily a problem with MPP in which incentives to produce have been destroyed by mass rentseeking, often down to the lowest officials. Unfortunately, mass rentseeking is very hard to fix, even with revolution the new leadership faces immense incentives to simply take hold of the golden reins themselves. I hope they are reading him in Egypt!

    Something I learned in studying fusion research — “is very smart” should never be confused with “has the right answer” especially under high complexity.

  18. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    5. July 2013 at 08:00

    Talldave, says… “is very smart” should never be confused with “has the right answer” especially under high complexity.”

    Well put.
    This should be carved over the halls of of every building in academia, the government, the press and industry… Everywhere. I guess I am saying I wish it was “common knowledge” But it aint.

    I’d guess 95% of what passes for political/economic debate by our politicians and in the press are really just appeals to authorities they really don’t understand.
    As for the general public’s debate, it’s probably more like 99.99 % appeals to authority.

    As for the Econ blogosphere… I don’t know enough to hazard a guess as to how much of the debate is based on “Appeals to authority” but is seem like too much. (One of the things I like about Scott is how he avoids appeals to authority…very rare for a “conservative” blog. )

    Having said that… There is no doubt in my mind that inequity does cause economic turmoil… Maybe the MPC part is not that significant, or is too narrow an explanation of a complex process… but history shows that Inequity leads all kinds of bad out comes.

    Best regards, Short Bill.

  19. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    5. July 2013 at 12:05

    This should be carved over the halls of of every building in academia, the government, the press and industry…

    Indeed! “Nullius In Verba” actually is carved above the Royal Society building, but it could bear wider distribution.

    There is no doubt in my mind that inequity does cause economic turmoil…

    It’s an understandable sentiment because it’s so often true the two are related, but the data suggest that’s driven by inequalities that are created coercively (as opposed to Western democracies where coercive flows generally move wealth to the benefit of lower-income citizens). If someone like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, or Sergey Brin becomes very wealthy by creating something people find very useful, the increase in inequality is accompanied by rising living standards (due to the value creation) and increased stability.

  20. Gravatar of Brad DeLong Brad DeLong
    8. July 2013 at 14:53


  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2013 at 17:13

    Brad, Just a weak attempt at humor on my part.

  22. Gravatar of DOB DOB
    9. July 2013 at 17:42

    Speaking of Krugman and pop economics, have you guys noticed the huge fallacy in his post “The War on Unemployment” ? He basically discards wage rigidity as the main cause of unemployment.

    I commented here: http://catalystofgrowth.com/2013/07/09/krugman-effectively-rejects-wage-rigidity-as-cause-of-unemployment/

  23. Gravatar of steve V steve V
    10. July 2013 at 12:19

    Not weak at all- DeLong always backs PK to the point that it’s become rather humorous- thank you for capturing it! (Even when he has doubts his “algorithm” tells him to revert to step one: PK is always right!)

  24. Gravatar of Brad DeLong Brad DeLong
    13. July 2013 at 19:10


    I recall backing Geithner over Krugman back at the start of the Obama administration.

    I was wrong to do so, but I did it…

  25. Gravatar of DOB DOB
    13. July 2013 at 19:28


    Do you back Krugman when he states that even if wages could be made to come down, it wouldn’t solve the unemployment problem?

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. July 2013 at 04:14

    Brad, And you were right that Krugman was wrong about nationalizing banks.

    Humor doesn’t require 100 percent accuracy does it? I mean when you say some bonehead Republican is invariably wrong, surely there’s a bit of hyperbole?

    My views are actually slightly closer to your views than Krugman’s, so there was no intention to paint you as a weak clone. if it came off that way it was my mistake.

  27. Gravatar of Jonathan B Jonathan B
    3. August 2013 at 15:15

    I spilled my coffee when I read:

    “PPS. Krugman asks:

    . . . on the general principle that if I am not for myself, who will be for me . . .

    Um, Brad DeLong?”

    So, so, funny.

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