Friday, July 1, 2011

Five books that inspired Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is a columnist at the New York Times and a professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. In 1991 the American Economic Association awarded him its John Bates Clark medal, a prize given every two years to "that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge." In 2008 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. His books include The Accidental Theorist and The Conscience of a Liberal.

With Sophie Roell at FiveBooks, Krugman discussed why he considers himself a liberal as well as five books that inspired him, including:
by Isaac Asimov

The first book you’ve chosen isn’t about economics at all; it’s a work of science-fiction, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. But was it part of what inspired you to become an economist?

Yes. This is a very unusual set of novels from Isaac Asimov, but a classic. It’s not about gadgets. Although it’s supposed to be about a galactic civilisation, the technology is virtually invisible and it’s not about space battles or anything like that. The story is about these people, psychohistorians, who are mathematical social scientists and have a theory about how society works. The theory tells them that the galactic empire is failing, and they then use that knowledge to save civilisation. It’s a great image. I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, “I want to be one of those guys!” Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get.

I do get a sense from your columns in The New York Times that you are on a mission…

Obviously I try to do straight economics and I do it as well as I can. But this is for a purpose. That purpose is not to find better ways of making money – although I have no problem with people doing that. The purpose is actually to make a better world. So yes, I do feel that I am trying to do something that goes beyond just the analysis.

When I read your book, The Conscience of a Liberal, I came to realise that that purpose is to save the middle-class America you grew up in. Do you feel it’s under threat?

It’s not under threat – it’s actually largely, but not completely, gone. We’re trying to recapture it. We really have had a tremendous polarisation [in wealth]. People notice it every once in a while and it comes as a huge revelation to them. So for example, in last week’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof had a column about how maybe we’re turning into Pakistan. It’s clear that we are not at all the relatively equal middle-class society we were, and we’re getting less so. That’s something you want to try to turn around.
Visit The Browser to read about the other books on Krugman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue