Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is Krugman an Economist?

The blogosphere reacts to the bizarre question asked by David Kennedy in his review of Krugman's book.

What is particularly bizarre about the question is the basis, "And yet maybe Krugman is not really an economist — at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker". While Kennedy might have intended this as a debating point, what academic field is defined by belief in a set of core doctrines rather than a subject of study? Even worse to decide on the set of core doctrines a century ago, before Keynes, Freedman, the depression or the digital computer.

The idea that economics is defined by core beliefs is of course an old one, the principal exponent of that approach being of course Karl Marx. Like many an early exponent of an undeveloped field, Marx got plenty wrong. Those mistakes would not have mattered half so much if Marx had not also claimed infallibility. As a result, like Freud he founded a pseudo-science that has obscured his genuine contributions to the field.

Like many a lay person using a quotation in a field which he is ignorant of, Kennedy misses his mark since Walker "wrote that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.” "

Oops, last I looked Krugman's view on laissez-faire was pretty much compatible with the 19th century understanding. He argues for free trade (mostly) he does not argue in favor of state granted monopolies, he argues against protectionism.

As Brad DeLong notes, Kennedy starts his review by noting that Krugman has "abundant accolades include the John Bates Clark Medal... a distinction... perhaps even more prestigious than... the Nobel.... ".

Does the Bates Clark medal rank with a Nobel? Well Krugman's office at MIT was in the Nobel Suite. And the story goes that when Krugman left for MIT the economists decided that rather than argue over which of them would inherit the prestige of his office that it would only go to postdocs - presumably until there was another MIT Nobel or Bates Clark laureate.

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