Larissa McFarquhar's lengthy profile of Paul Krugman in the New Yorker ("The Deflationist") chronicles how the prominent economist/columnist went from being a writer mainly concerned with the "smart and stupid" to one concerned with matters of "left and right."
It's the story of a conversion -- not from one political point of view to another, but rather how he came to participate in the mean-minded field at all.
(Also, scroll down to see the NewYorker.com video of folk singer Loudon Wainwright III crooning "The Krugman Blues". Sample line: "Sometimes when he's on the TV, in the background you can spot his school logo. Paul teaches at Princeton U, so Krugman ought to know.")
When Krugman first began writing articles for popular publications, in the mid-nineties, Bill Clinton was in office, and Krugman thought of the left and the right as more or less equal in power. Thus, there was no pressing need for him to take sides--he would shoot down idiocy wherever it presented itself, which was, in his opinion, all over the place. He thought of himself as a liberal, but he was a liberal economist, which wasn't quite the same thing as a regular liberal.
And as a liberal economist, he was tired of the typical political battles ("Supply-siders never tire of proclaiming that taxes are the root of all evil, but reasonable people do get tired of explaining, over and over again, that they aren't"), and the state of play hadn't yet reached the point where his faith was badly shaken ("Occasionally, he received letters from people claiming that corporations were cooking the books, but he thought this sounded so implausible that he dismissed them").
Ultimately, and not particularly surprisingly, it was the election of George W. Bush that galvanized Krugman to enter into ideological combat. But McFarquhar does a fine job of pointing out that Krugman never really gave up preferring to fight the battle of "smart versus stupid." He's been a vigorous critic of the Obama administration's policies and politics ever since the early 2008 primary season. However, she also notes that the process of shifting from a Bush critic to an Obama critic hasn't always been as fun:
But most people didn't see Obama the way Krugman did; they thought he was the savior of the left, and the passions of the campaign were such that when Krugman wrote columns deriding Obama he was lacerated--scathing comments on the progressive blogs, more hate mail, and not the fun kind. "I won't try for fake evenhandedness here," Krugman wrote. "The Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." "OK, you did it," one commenter wrote in response. "You lost me. I've defended you on local blogs but you've sunk into low territory." "You're devolving into a caricature with your gross misrepresentations and strident, ignorant defense of the Clinton campaign," another wrote. "Paul, you're killing a little bit of your readers' souls," a third wrote, "or at least those of us who used to love your column." "The primary was terrible, it was awful," Krugman says.
"Paul was getting attacked by people we thought of as on our side," Wells says. "I thought to myself, Well, I knew things were going to change, but this is quick and hard enough to give you whiplash. One of our friends said, 'You'd better be careful, because Obama supporters might put rattlesnakes in your mailbox.' People said, 'Oh, Paul's son works in Hillary's campaign.' " (Krugman has no children.) "People were so upset and angry after Bush, they had taken leave of their senses. They wanted to give themselves over, and they resented people like Paul who said, 'No, don't give yourselves over, think about what's going on.' They wanted to feel that they were being redeemed, and this is what Obama was offering, but he doesn't have the right or the ability to redeem people; that's not appropriate."
In short, standing in angry opposition to the Bush administration had its fun kicks, but watching the Obama administration flail has given him... well, the blues. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Loudon Wainwright III:
The Deflationist [The New Yorker]
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