Gingrich, Krugman, Asimov, Popper

by Daniel Foster

Mark: Here’s the relevant bit from the loving New Yorker profile of that once-obscure economist who shares Gingrich’s inspiration, and apparently his belief that civilization can be managed at the largest scales by all-seeing technocrats:

Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction. When he was a boy, he’d read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and become obsessed with the central character, Hari Seldon. Seldon was a “psychohistorian”—a scientist with such a precise understanding of the mechanics of society that he could predict the course of events thousands of years into the future and save mankind from centuries of barbarism. He couldn’t predict individual behavior—that was too hard—but it didn’t matter, because history was determined not by individuals but by laws and hidden forces. “If you read other genres of fiction, you can learn about the way people are and the way society is,” Krugman said to the audience, “but you don’t get very much thinking about why are things the way they are, or what might make them different. What would happen if ?”

Whole thing here. I won’t go so far as to say that believing the course of human events is shaped in knowable, predictable ways by “laws” and “hidden forces” is unconservative, but it ain’t un-unconservative. I wonder if Krugman or Gingrich ever read Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism?

UPDATE: I didn’t think this needed explaining, but the kind of predictions I have in mind aren’t actuarial (how many people will die of heart attacks next year given factors x, y, z,. . ., n) or even statistical. There are, of course, probabilistic laws. I’m talking about predictions of a grander and more specific character. As a for instance, the prediction by the apparently well-respected Russian “academic” Igor Panarin that the United States would descend into civil war and split into six parts by June, 2010.

The Corner

The one and only.