Monday, October 13, 2008

Krugman's Prize

Like the rest of the left-wing blogsphere, I’m all atwitter with the news that Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Prize in economics. Okay, its not really a Nobel Prize—the five others prizes are called the Nobel Prize in Physics or Peace or whatever. The economics prize, which has only be awarded since 1968, is properly called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which journalists invariably shorten to the Nobel Prize in Economics. Why economics, and not only social sciences? Above all, no why Nobel Prize for history? The only Nobel laureates to win for historical writing are, I think Theodore Mommsen, a 19th century historian of Rome, who won the Nobel in Lit in 1902, Winston Churchill in 1954, and the econometric historians William Fogel and Douglass North, who won the economics prize in 1993. Okay, I’m wandering away from the main point here.

To return. It’s fantastic news, and as Matt Ygelsias points out, he’s probably the first blogger to win a Nobel Prize. Krugman’s career at the Times has been curious; hiring him was probably the best thing Howell Raines did at the Times during his stormy tenure as executive editor. He was hired in 2000 as an economics columnist at the Times at the height of the dot-com boom to give the Times an economic voice on the op-ed page. He had the reputation for a progressive Clintonian, a supporter of NAFTA (and it was his work on free trade that won the prize); it struck me at the time as a sort of concession to the stock market gazing that was in early 2000 crowding all serious politcal commentary from the nation's ediorial pages. I was wrong, and once Bush was chosen to be president by the US Supreme Court in December 2000, and especially after 9/11, Krugman went on to become on to be one of the most ferocious critics of the Bush administration; certainly no one combined his ferocity (and trenchant analysis and facts to back up his savage indignation) with a well placed position of the editorial pages of the Times. Months would go by without a mention of economics as Krugman detailed perfidy after perfidy in the Middle East and elsewhere. He became an exception to the standard rule in American journalism; firebreathing conservatives to represent the right, and moderate, on the one hand on the other hand liberals to represent the left. Progressives loved him, while he became one of the most reviled figures in the media on the right, the proof positive that the Times was in abject thrall to the radical left (The irony being that the Times probably never would have hired him if his political evolution had been known in early 2000.)

And in the past year, as the world’s attention has returned to economics, he has become of the world’s most influential voices on economic matters. (I can’t tell how many people told me, re: the $700 Billion bailout, “well Krugman is reluctantly supporting it, I suppose I should too.”) Just in the past week, Krugman’s voice was one of the most influential calling for an abandonment of the Treasury Department’s asset purchase plan in favor of a direct recapitalization of the banks, and the Treasury bowed to the calls of Krugman and others over the weekend. Anyway, here’s to you Paul Krugman, in part for perhaps the greatest demonstration in our times that a career of scholarly excellence can be combined with one of being a powerful, influential journalist and uncompromising social critic. It is the career that the rest of us who toil somewhere in the academy can only dream about.

No comments: