America’s new favorite topic: economics. To most Americans, it’s a matter of opinion and ideology. To those who’ve studied it, it’s a matter of mathematics, models, and, well…opinion and ideology.
Economists love to interpret models to fit with their own political leanings. Conservative economists claim that government spending is evil and tax cuts are the route to utopia. When speaking to us lowly Americans, they state that their ideas are based on models, and are therefore absolute. There's no arguing with them, because they know better than everyone else. While economic models support some conservative ideas, many economists seem to forget that models don’t accurately predict everything in the real world. They’re just models. They can show trends, they can try and reason things out, but in the end, things just happen.
Nobody has helped me understand this more than my absolute favorite economist, Paul Krugman.
Paul Krugman is the man.
He’s a prize-winning economist, Princeton professor, and author/editor of 20 books and over 200 papers. But then again, many economists have similar credentials, and who really cares? It’s all about how they reach people. Krugman does this better than the average economist. He takes the usually boring subject of economics, which is complex enough to be beyond the understanding of the average American, and makes it understandable. He puts it in the hands of people who would otherwise be uninformed. He is a greatly influential public intellectual.
Some would say that’s uncommon. Stephen Mack posted on his blog an essay titled “The ‘Decline’ of Public Intellectuals?” It quoted John Donatich in asking how American intellectual work reconciles itself with “the venerable tradition of American anti-intellectualism.” Donatich wonders how our culture, filled with people convinced that they can self-govern (a crazy idea), responds to the experts who try and reason with them.
Well, in Krugman’s case, we respect them and ask for their opinion. Krugman doesn’t separate himself from the average man or woman. He doesn’t brag about his education or his accomplishments. He writes because he wants to express his opinion, and he writes the way he does because he wants people to listen. There’s no difficult-to-understand language, and no holier-than-thou attitude. He is a public intellectual, and the American public definitely doesn’t ignore him.
Krugman is featured as a columnist for the New York Times, and has a blog on the New York Times website titled “The Conscience of a Liberal.” He makes daily posts outlining the current economic situation, and discusses political issues from an economic perspective. His blog speaks to the average citizen about important issues, is a useful tool for those who are seriously interested in economics and want to learn more, and is a way for him to engage in discourse in his field. In no way does his blog discredit him among fellow economists, or cheapen his ideas to others in his field.
Paul Krugman shows that intellectuals can speak in a meaningful way to both average people and fellow intellectuals. If certain public intellectuals think that nobody’s listening, they need to reevaluate the way they do what they do. People listen when they hear something of worth, and that’s what Krugman’s ideas are. He is a liberal, and he uses economics in his arguments. However, Krugman uses economic models in a useful way, rather than considering economic principles exact and basing all his opinions on them. That’s why readers (including myself) keep reading.