The Corner

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Krugman and Asimov


It is probably evidence of my advancing age, but it took a reader to point out that my post was not the first time I have written about how the Foundation series inspired Krugman. I wrote about it a few years ago:

To hear Paul Krugman tell it, people who disagree with him are “cranks” who have never read an economic textbook and can’t do math. Of course, these characterizations are often true. But Krugman is disconcertingly prone to asserting — and merely asserting — which people “deserve to be taken seriously” and which don’t. Or he will write that some line of argument “leads us into the whole question of whether . . . the [federal] budget is loaded with fat (it isn’t).” Well, that settles that.

This fondness for the ipse dixit may be related to Krugman’s grandiose view of his discipline. In the 1995 essay mentioned above, he wrote that as a boy he had been a fan of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, which was based on the premise that a sufficiently sophisticated science — Asimov dubbed it “psychohistory” — could predict the course of empires half a millennium into the future. “Someday there will exist a unified social science of the kind that Asimov imagined,” Krugman wrote, “but for the time being economics is as close to psychohistory as you can get.”

This description-cum-aspiration is, as the liberal economist James K. Galbraith has observed, not so much scientific as scientistic. Rather than confront that critique, Krugman caricatures it.