Paul Krugman on the Bad Economic Ideas That Refuse to Die

The Nobel-winning economist and New York Times opinion columnist talks to Marker about tax cuts, trade wars, his new book, and more

Patrick J. Sauer
Marker
Published in
9 min readJan 28, 2020

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Image: William_Potter/Getty Images

InIn 2011, the Department of Defense released “CONPLAN 8888–11,” a lengthy detailed 31-page plan for battling the impending zombie apocalypse that was “not actually designed as a joke.” An article at History.com explained it was a training exercise with three goals in mind. “First, create and uphold a defensive plan to protect humankind from mind-munching predators. Second, establish procedures to eradicate any threat of zombies. Third, restore law and order to a war-ridden economy.”

If the walking dead ever do have their day, it’s going to take big brains to get the American economy up and running again. Fortunately, Paul Krugman is already on the case. His latest book, entitled Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future, is a collection of columns, blogs, essays, and articles, some going back nearly 30 years, but most culled from his years at the New York Times, which began in 2000. To be clear, Krugman isn’t fighting actual zombies, but he is combatting apocalyptic economic thinking, the “misunderstandings that just won’t die” like say how whopping tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down and benefit the rest of us or the “crucible” of climate change deniers in the Republican Party.

In his frequent television appearances, Krugman doesn’t generally come off as a firebrand, but reading his columns in book form, as opposed to one-offs in the newspaper, a clear steely eyed sense of moral outrage builds throughout Arguing With Zombies. Krugman is hot as Hades at the 21st-century world of disinformation — the title of a recent column literally included the words “road to hell”— and its major practitioners like Donald Trump. The rhetorical gloves are off. Arguing With Zombies is a 414-page cudgel to the head of the current administration with a chapter devoted solely to the president. In said chapter’s introduction, “Why Not the Worst?” Krugman declares “In many ways, what Trump has done to America since 2016 is similar to what the Bush team did to Iraq in the disastrous first year of occupation.”

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