- New York Times columnist
- Princeton University economics professor and advocate of bigger government
- Former $50,000 per year advisor and booster of corrupt Enron Corporation, where he said he served on “an advisory panel that had no function that I was aware of”
- “If Bush said the Earth was flat, the mainstream media would have stories with the headline: ‘Shape of Earth – Views Differ.’ Then they’d quote some Democrats saying that it was round.” -- Paul Krugman
Paul Robin Krugman writes a twice-weekly column in the New York Times. He is a Professor of International Trade and International Economics at Princeton University, and describes himself as an “unabashed defender of the welfare state.”
Krugman was born (in 1953) and raised in Long Island, New York. He graduated from Yale University in 1974 and earned his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1977. He developed a passion for international macro-economics when he and a group of fellow MIT graduate students worked together on a project for the central bank of Portugal.
Krugman thereafter went on to teach economics at Yale, MIT and Stanford University. As one of the founders of the "new trade theory" in international economics, he won the American Economic Association's 1991 John Bates Clark medal, a prize given to "that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge." His academic research at the time was focused on economic and currency crises.
In 1982-83, Krugman took a leave of absence from teaching at MIT to serve as chief staffer for international economics at the Council of Economic Advisors in President Ronald Reagan's administration.
According to one biographer:
"As a defender of the welfare state, Krugman's views were directly opposed to the majority in the [Reagan] administration. [But Krugman] observed that policy decisions in Washington tend to be based on the advice of advisors who generate a comfort level, rather than that of 'those who force them to think hard. That is, those who really manage to influence policy are usually the best courtiers, not the best analysts.' Krugman considers himself a good analyst, but a bad courtier.”
During the 1990s Krugman wrote books whose popularity reached beyond academe. Among these were: Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations (1994); The Self-Organizing Economy (1995); Pop Internationalism (1996); and The Accidental Theorist: And Other Dispatches from the Dismal Science (1998).
By 1998 Krugman was also writing monthly columns for Fortune magazine and the online magazine Slate.
When he first began writing for a non-academic audience, Krugman did not hesitate to argue with Democrats and their ideological allies. For instance, after having initially endorsed the Bill Clinton administration’s economic plan, Krugman later derided the plan's “dominant ideology” as “foolish” for allegedly preferring “policy entrepreneurs to real experts” -- a thinly disguised dig at future Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. In Krugman's own estimation, such candor cost him a position as Clinton’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
Parallel with his political heterodoxy, Krugman also showed a willingness to deal with inconvenient facts. In 1994 he published Peddling Prosperity, a book that, while unfriendly to conservative “supply-side” economics and its commitment to cutting taxes and regulation, nonetheless acknowledged its merits. Krugman conceded, for instance, that “conservatives” had “made a strong case that the distortions of incentives associated with taxes were larger than most economists had previously realized.”
No friend of deregulation, Krugman nonetheless admitted that Democratic administrations, no less than their Republican counterparts, had made it a matter of policy -- and moreover that the policy had its successes. Thus he noted that the “extensive deregulation of the oil, airline and trucking industry began under Jimmy Carter,” and that “[m]ost economists count these deregulations as a success.”
In 1999 Krugman was part of an Enron Corporation board that paid him $50,000. In 1999, as journalist Andrew Sullivan has reported, Krugman wrote an article praising Enron's free-wheeling entrepreneurial structure. (Enron would later collapse amid scandal and charges of financial wrongdoing. Thereafter distancing himself from the disgraced company, Krugman in a 2001 column would describe the aforementioned board as "an advisory panel that had no function that I was aware of.")
In January 2000 Krugman became a columnist for the opinion pages of the New York Times. With the election of President George W. Bush that November, Krugman's writing underwent a dramatic transformation. His Times columns now became bitter screeds against the Bush administration’s “hard right turn,” “America's radical right right-wing media,” and conservatives generally. “Yes, Virginia,” Krugman insisted, in all seriousness, “there is a right-wing conspiracy.”
Krugman reveled in his new role as a scourge of conservatives. “If I have ended up more often than not writing pieces that attack the right wing, it's because the right wing now rules -- and rules badly,” he declared. He blamed virtually every mishap, economic or otherwise, on President Bush and Republicans.
During California’s energy crisis in 2001, for example, he blasted the Bush administration for its failure to impose price caps through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At no point did Krugman see it fit to mention that the Clinton administration, under the influence of its economic advisors, had similarly resisted imposing price controls through the FERC.
In 2004 Krugman claimed that job projections by the Bush administration’s Council of Economic Advisors were exemplary of what happens when “political propaganda takes the place of professional analysis.” But in fact, as economist Alex Tabarrok showed, it was Krugman who had allowed politics to distort his analysis. So flagrant were Krugman’s distortions that in May 2005, former Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent was moved to vent his exasperation in a farewell column for the paper. Warning that “Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults,” Okrent urged publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. to “hold his columnists to higher standards.”
Outsiders, too, have observed Krugman’s overt bias. A November 13, 2003 article appearing in The Economist states:
"A glance through his past columns reveals a growing tendency to attribute all the world’s ills to George Bush…. Even his economics is sometimes stretched…. Overall, the effect is to give lay readers the illusion that Mr. Krugman’s perfectly respectable personal political beliefs can somehow be derived empirically from economic theory."
Krugman, in his own defense, claimed political neutrality, observing that he had critics on both sides of the ideological spectrum. "These days I often find myself accused of being a knee-jerk liberal, even a socialist," he wrote in his 2003 book The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. "But just a few years ago the real knee-jerk liberals didn't like me at all -- one magazine even devoted a cover story to an attack on me for my pro-capitalist views, and I still have the angry letter Ralph Nader sent me when I criticized his attacks on globalization." Krugman's self-analysis was consistent with the fact that the tenor and aim of his writing changed drastically after the 2000 election of President Bush.
Krugman’s reflexively partisan response to the 2008 financial crisis was typical. While conceding that the crisis was rooted in some causes other than the Bush administration, Krugman nevertheless assured his readers that much of the blame should be ascribed to an “administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as ‘private good, public bad,’ which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.” He did not mention that one of the first steps taken by the ostensibly privatization-obsessed administration was to announce the largest government bailout of the private sector in American history, complete with a government takeover of mortgage giants Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac and a price tag of over $700 billion.
Krugman’s penchant for blaming the Bush administration for the alleged horrors of deregulation is all the more curious given his previous recognition that similar policies were implemented by Democratic presidents. Expunged from his columns nowadays is any mention of the deregulation that took place under the Carter administration, or the Clinton administration’s partial repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which deregulated the banking industry.
“Whenever Democrats were in charge he thinks it was a golden age,” observes William Anderson, a professor of economics at economics at Frostburg State University. “[Economists are] supposed to provide dispassionate analysis. What we get from Krugman is partisan shilling.”
In January 2008, economist Daniel Stein published a comprehensive critique of Krugman based on an analysis of his columns from 1997 to 2006. He found that Krugman, despite his professed admiration of the free-market, routinely favors government intervention and increased regulation. Aside from a single column opposing rent-control and agricultural subsidies, Krugman’s support for the free market was nowhere in evidence. Beyond that, Klein found that Krugman now approached economics through a “liberal versus conservative” mentality, and there was no doubt about where Krugman’s allegiances lay.
In 2007 Krugman published The Conscience of a Liberal, which examines the divergences occurring between rich and poor Americans throughout the 20th century. Despite advances in technology and medicine, Krugman believes that most people are worse off now than they were 35 years ago:
“[I]in some crucial ways, things have not made progress... People aren't nearly as much better off as they would be if the gains from economic growth had been broadly distributed.”
Krugman blames this unequal distribution of wealth particularly on conservatives and Republicans, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Krugman proposes a “new New Deal,” in which less money is spent on national security and more is allocated to social welfare programs.
In October 2008 Krugman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his “analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.” Along with the honor came a monetary prize of $1.4 million.
In a November 2010 interview, Krugman was asked about whether a tax hike was needed in order to generate sufficient revenues for the government. He stated: "Some years down the pike we're going to get the real solution which is going to be a combination of death panels [determining, in a cost-vs.-benefit calculation, who should and should not be eligible for certain costly medical treatments] and sales taxes. It’s going to be that we’re actually going to take Medicare under control and we’re going to have to get some additional revenue, probably from a VAT [value-added tax]."
On January 9, 2011 -- the day after a gunman named Jared Loughner had murdered six people
and gravely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona -- Krugman wrote that the
murders were a result of hate-filled rhetoric by conservatives and Republicans:
“When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely
surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this
atrocity to happen? Put me in the latter category. It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally
troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as
an isolated event …
“There isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions
that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that
debate by whatever means necessary. And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially
our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising
tide of violence. Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false
pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right …
“So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s
really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s
happening to America and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric?
Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged
individual and go on as before?”
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article, "Paul Krugman's Great Unraveling," written by Jacob Lakisin and published by FrontPageMag.com on October 17, 2001.