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The Accidental Theorist and Other Dispatches from the Dismal Science (1998)

de Paul R. Krugman

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Frustrated by the ivory tower of academic economics and convinced that economics is far too important to leave people in the dark, Paul Krugman started writing short articles aiming to make the issues accessible for non-specialists and to burst the nonsensical balloons being floated by the left and right alike.… (mais)

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It's impossible to read these twenty-year-old essays and not feel like many of them haven't aged a day. Whether you agree with them or not, or whether you even like the infamously acerbic Krugman or not, to a remarkable extent the logic behind the majority of these columns still feels fresh and relevant. I'm a big fan of his for a few reasons: I learned a lot of macro from his writings in grad school, I enjoy his lucid writing style, and I share his social-democratic political leanings with an appreciation for free trade and strong markets. All of these elements are here (though he's still in his "criticize both sides equally" phase; the first few essays have a slight hippie-punching feel to them before he gets around to deflating conservative myths), and out of his pre-George W. Bush books this might be the strongest of the lot due to its wide range of subjects and compact ability to educate and entertain.

Krugman's mission in this assortment of Slate columns is popularization, taking on a Carl Sagan-ish role of accessibly discussing contemporary economic issues. And, much like Sagan, in addition to simply explaining what simple concepts are he also wants his readers to respect the idea of rigor, and to have an appreciation of how difficult it is to make true intellectual progress when it comes to seemingly-simple economic questions. Complicated subjects like inequality ("An Unequal Exchange"), inflation (like "A Good Word For Inflation"), technological progress ("Technology's Wonders"), unemployment ("What Is Wrong With Japan"), and commodity speculation ("How Copper Came a Cropper") have clearly presented numbers and reasoning, with an eye towards teaching the reader how to know when someone is grounding their analysis in facts or opinion. He's of course unsparing in his criticism of people who he thinks are fools or liars, but even if you don't like Krugman because of his tone, facts don't lie; it really is truly remarkable that a guy like Newt Gingrich is even stupider today than he was back in 1995.

One of the main takeaways from this this essay collection, above and beyond whether you agree with any specific column or not, is that it really helps to have a consistent framework for thinking about economic issues. Is globalization good or bad? Should the US reduce the trade deficit? What are the effects of inflation on interest rates? Can we reduce unemployment to zero and have fast growth like we did in the 60s? One well-thought-out theory can be worth dozens of unsorted facts. Not every essay is as strong as it could be, but even a blunt and infuriating essay like "In Praise of Cheap Labor" is more sophisticated than its critics admit, and looks stronger every day that formerly closed countries like China develop and transform their sweatshops into boring Western 9-to-5s. He hasn't ever written a big profession-shaking epic like his hero Keynes, and at this phase in his career he probably won't ever get around to it, but his guiding ethos of progress through and with - not instead of - capitalism remains a worthy philosophy to subscribe to. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
quite enjoyable, understandable. he's quite willing to dump on anyone. ( )
  mahallett | Apr 4, 2009 |
Krugman, Paul. The Accidental Theorist: And Other Dispatches from the Dismal Science. W.W. Norton, New York, 1998. I'm in the middle of a "I need to understand economics and business" phase. I enjoy Paul Krugman because he reinforces one of my preconceptions about economics: most people who make economic predictions don't know what they're talking about. This book is filled with Mr. Krugman popping the bubbles of various political figures (I'm surprised at the number of ad hominum attacks, actually). Krugman has certainly made many enemies. However, I'm disappointed with how short most of the essays are. He'll pop a bubble, but he won't replace it with anything else. It's nice to know that I need to question what I hear from various media figures; however, this book won't teach you much about economics. I guess that's what textbooks are for.
1 vote BrianDewey | Jul 30, 2007 |
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Frustrated by the ivory tower of academic economics and convinced that economics is far too important to leave people in the dark, Paul Krugman started writing short articles aiming to make the issues accessible for non-specialists and to burst the nonsensical balloons being floated by the left and right alike.

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