Mr. Krugman: Get with it, guy!

by Kevin

So I started this website on August 11th, 1999, at the humble address of

I had two reasons: one, to have something good on my resume for college applications. Two, I really admired the work that Krugman was doing. He had some excellent books under his belt, was putting out good articles for Slate, and generally making a name for himself. Those articles really helped convince me to study Economics in college, and moved me politically towards a common-sense appreciation of the goods and bads in America. Hence, my website. Krugman honored me on his website with the ringing endorsement: 'A fan has set this up: I disavow any knowledge of his actions.'

By the time Krugman began writing for the Times in 2000, I had migrated to and the website looked pretty much like it does now. So I thought hey, great, writing for the New York Times. Expectation: great, thoughtful columns on economic issues as well as a commonsense perspective on issues that don't often see a treatment from the economic perspective.

Two years later, I'm wondering why things just aren't going that well.

They started well enough, with the kind of witty opinions that is Krugman's strong point, and probably the reason the NY Times hired him. His column on the AOL Time Warner merger was rock solid. Also the column on Ecuador. But by February 2000, two months in, Krugman began writing about Bush. About six months later, he really began writing about Bush. And writing about Bush. There's nothing wrong with setting a theme, or pushing an issue that most of the media is too polite to cover. But column after column flogged the same points, with nothing truly new to add. Worst of all, the witty scoring became angry preaching. Look at this column, where my synopsi of the columns was a terse 'Final Bush Slam.'

A reasonably famous columnist I wrote to answered that Krugman's strength is as an Explainer, not a Polemicist. His first column after 9.11 was just this: a concise explanation of what to expect, economically. It's an excellent column. Yet take this column on War Bonds and this one. The same themes, and the same sense of outrage, again and again. Does he really want to be Maureen Dowd, pounding a theme to death? Or Tom Friedman, garnering controversy but respect for shedding new light on issues?

And now there's been a tempest in a teapot over an attempt by Andrew Sullivan to smack Krugman over his writing on Enron. It hardly stuck; Josh Marshall wrote a ringing defense, and even the Wall Street Journal shrugged it off. Krugman wrote a letter in his own defense, so enough of that. But I'm using this nadir to prod: past time to examine what's going on.

I'm not saying that Krugman is as bad as Bob Herbert. But an Economist of his caliber should be at a higher level: certainly controversial but also a major opinion leader. Step back, take a look at the past two years, and think about where to go from here. Does Krugman want to spend two more years predictably attacking the same subjects? Or to step back, get out of a bit of a rut, and move up to the next level?

Something to consider.