“Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman”

I’m going to be really excited to hear that locution repeated again and again in years to come. I can’t think of anyone more deserving, both because of his academic accomplishments and his commitment to stay involved in public debates and not retreat into obscurity. I had my differences with him during the primaries, but there’s no progressive voice with more sway in the mainstream media, and his work on free trade is still as convincing as ever.

With that in mind, a compilation of my favorite reading by and about Krugman:

  • “Comparative Advantage” by Nicholas Confessore, The Washington Monthly. Published in late 2002, this explains as well as anyone could how Krugman went from a well-respected MIT economist to a public intellectual, and his later transition from a public intellectual who fought mainly with writers like Robert Reich and Laura Tyson to one who forged the liberal consensus on the Bush tax cuts. Anyone old-fogey enough to remember Nick’s writing on TAPPED knows the man can turn a phrase, and he does a particularly good job here.
  • “Ricardo’s Difficult Idea” by Paul Krugman, written for a Manchester conference on free trade. This is the single best thing written since the globalization debate started in the ’80s about trade. Bar none. Krugman shows how everyone from Reich to James Fallows to Michael Lind base their “challenges to the free trade orthodoxy” based on long-debunked critiques, discredited economists like Friedrich List (Fallows), or even out and out lies about the data (Lind). The comparison he draws between comparative advantage and evolution as concept that are essential to their disciplines but extremely hard for pundits to grasp is compelling, and towards the end the piece morphs into an all-out critique of public intellectualism as practiced in the ’90s. Read it, read it again, and then make all your friends read it.
  • “In Defense of Cheap Labor” by Paul Krugman, Slate. When I was 12 or 13, I didn’t believe in free trade. The calculus seemed simple. Workers in China get paid less than workers in the US, hence open trade will lead to more jobs being supplied at worse wages in China. Fewer jobs for Americans + bad wages for Chinese = bad policy. Then my dad sent me this essay, and it single-handedly turned me around. It’s full of biting one-liners, from the subtitle, “Bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all,” to “global poverty is not something recently invented for the benefit of multinational corporations,” to the ultimate point of the piece, “wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people”. He proves that beyond any doubt, and the free-trade boosterism you’ve seen on this blog for the past four and a half years is a direct result. Thanks, Paul.
  • “Baby-Sitting the Economy” by Paul Krugman, Slate. Krugman explains all of macroeconomics using the example of a babysitting co-op. I’m not joking. You’ll think far more clearly about recessions and monetary policy and the Fed after reading about the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Co-Op.
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