Krugman on Favorite Books
By David Henderson
Sophie Roell interviews Paul Krugman on his five favorite books. A couple of highlights:
I think it’s actually a point when you’re quite vulnerable, because you are looking for someone who is going to offer you all the answers. Some people turn to religious orthodoxy, other people turn to Ayn Rand. One of my favourite lines – and I haven’t been able to find out who came up with it – is that “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs.”
OK, Krugman haters, you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty funny. I think it’s important for us Rand fans to laugh at ourselves.
On a more serious note, what I’ve noticed is the strong overlap between libertarians and fans of Tolkien. In fact, when I was in an Industrial Organization class in graduate school at UCLA in 1974, Harold Demsetz made some comment about the hobbit. I had no idea what a hobbit was and I was one of those students who, when I don’t understand a simple factual issue but think it might be important for understanding the professor’s point, asks the question. So I did. “What’s a hobbit?”, I asked. Demsetz, normally unflappable, looked shocked. “You don’t know what a hobbit is,” he asked, “and you call yourself a libertarian? And, by the way, get that hair cut.” (My hair was long and curly at the time. One of my graduate school colleagues, Kathy Classen (later Utgoff) said, “What’s the matter, Professor Demsetz? Are you jealous?” This was all in good humor.)
I guess that wasn’t a more serious note, was it?
Where I found myself at odds with Krugman on simply the facts about debate was over this statement:
In my experience with these things – which I find both within economics and more broadly – is that if you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can’t do it. They can’t get it remotely right. Or if you ask a conservative, “What do liberals want?” You get this bizarre stuff – for example, that liberals want everybody to ride trains, because it makes people more susceptible to collectivism. You just have to look at the realities of the way each side talks and what they know. One side of the picture is open-minded and sceptical. We have views that are different, but they’re arrived at through paying attention. The other side has dogmatic views.
I’ve found the opposite. I’m not a conservative but a libertarian, but Krugman lumps us together, which, in itself, shows a failure to listen. But I have found that both conservative and libertarian economists (as opposed to grassroots activists) have done a better job of stating “liberal” arguments and Keynesian arguments (those are not necessarily the same) than liberal economists are at stating our arguments. I think there’s a reason: we’ve seen ourselves as being in the minority for so long that we’ve had to learn the other side’s arguments. Try this test: see if you can read Krugman’s blog and NY Times column for two weeks and not find him, at least once, attributing motives to those economists he disagrees with that you are pretty sure are not their real motives.
HT to Tyler Cowen.