“Economics is as close to psychohistory as you can get.”
— Paul Krugman “Incidents from My Career”
This year’s winner of the Nobel prize in economics is one of the finest scholars in the field, but arguably the finest writer on the topic. Most Americans know him as a liberal op-ed blogger for the New York Times, but that’s just his crusty exterior which hides the sentimental, insightful polymath inside. It also makes the timing of his selection unfortunate in the sense that conservative pundits will call both Krugman and the Nobel selection committee into question. That would be and will be a mistake.
Not only does Paul Krugman merit a Nobel prize, but the world will benefit tremendously from the selection. His research and books will get more attention, for one, and that is a very, very good thing. Krugman may enjoy his role as a political pundit, but once the Bush presidency has ended, I suspect Krugman’s tone will change dramatically — regardless who “runs” Washington for the next 20 years. More importantly, the sum of his writings is supportive of economic freedom and material human progress.
I say all this as one who has disagreed with Paul Krugman deeply and often. But I also say this as one who has read and learned and re-read the man’s books, textbooks, and articles.
Bravo, Professor Krugman!
Now, for those looking for some good pointers on other good Krugman material available on and off the world wide web, I heartily recommend:
“Admittedly, there were those science fiction novels. Indeed, they may have been what made me go into economics. Those who read the stuff may be aware of the classic Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. It is one of the few science fiction series that deals with social scientists — the “psychohistorians”, who use their understanding of the mathematics of society to save civilization as the Galactic Empire collapses. I loved Foundation, and in my early teens my secret fantasy was to become a psychohistorian. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing (yet). I was and am fascinated by history, but the craft of history is far better at the what and the when than the why, and I eventually wanted more. As for social sciences other than economics, I am interested in their subjects but cannot get excited about their methods — the power of economic models to show how plausible assumptions yield surprising conclusions, to distill clear insights from seemingly murky issues, has no counterpart yet in political science or sociology. Someday there will exist a unified social science of the kind that Asimov imagined, but for the time being economics is as close to psychohistory as you can get.”