17 October, 2008

So Krugman has won a Nobel...

Since I was so excited the day that Krugman was awarded the Nobel, I thought I'd give you a little tour of his work.

My first exposure to Paul Krugman was not, in fact, his New York Times column. It was when I was still a young economics major, struggling to understand Keynesian macroeconomics. Luckily, Uncle Paul was there to exactly what it was about with his famous baby-sitting co-op piece. He analogizes the Keynesian monetary-led recession to the experience of a baby-sitting cooperative on Capitol Hill. Here's another piece in which he takes the simple logic of the baby-sitting co-op and constructs a miniature mathematical model thereof. These two very short pieces sum up the essence of Keynesian economics--the rest is elaboration.

Krugman's popular writing (before the New York Times) has three themes. Much of it is about explaining sophisticated economics in the most basic way possible, as in the above pieces. But he is also passionate about the economic method, and neoclassical economics in particular. Here's Krugman arguing that economics is the best of the social sciences. And here is Krugman extolling the virtues of mathematical modeling as the primary focus of economics.

He does not only have strong feelings about the methods of economics, but the conclusions as well, particularly when it comes to trade. If you read just one Krugman piece, make it Ricardo's Difficult Idea, a defense of the idea of comparative advantage against less rigorous thinking. In another classic piece, Krugman talks about the dangers of thinking about international trade in terms of competitiveness. And here he is comparing the economy to a hot dog--and making the point that productivity gains from trade and technological advances do not mean fewer jobs for Americans.

This of course brings me to the work for which he actually won the Nobel prize--new trade theory and the new economic geography. And there's no one better to explain it than Paul himself, which he did on his blog a few days ago. If you want another take, here's Ed Glaeser proving that partisanship is not an economic virtue. Of his academic work, I'm most familiar with his work in economic geography, which seeks to explain why cities exist and how they form. You can read the introduction to his coauthored monograph, "The Spatial Economy", here.

More recently, Krugman's blog has been invaluable for understanding the financial crisis, the bailout, and what exactly is going on.

In any case--he's often a polemicist, so you may disagree strongly with him. But I don't think there's been a better economics writer since perhaps Adam Smith. And I don't think there's any other single person who more influenced what I want to do for the rest of my life.

P.S. Much much more can be found at the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.


higgy said...
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spencer said...
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higgy said...


From the sound of it, Krugman seems to represent the ideal academic: accomplished in his research speciality and able to convey the goals, concepts, and importance of his field to the public.

Thanks for the summary, Spence. And the hint.