Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics and the Fight for a Better Future
by Paul Krugman.
Norton, 444 pp., £13.99, February, 978 0 393 54132 8
Paul Krugman’s latest collection of essays, Arguing with Zombies, first appeared in January 2020. Not only was it quickly buried by Covid, but he missed out on a thing all too rare for a pundit: the opportunity to declare victory. A year later, in Joe Biden’s Washington, Krugmanism rules. The gigantic scale of the $1.9 trillion Biden rescue plan, and now the proposed $2 trillion infrastructure investment programme, are testament to a rearrangement of the relationship between economic expertise and politics in the Democratic Party, a rearrangement which Krugman anticipated and for which Arguing with Zombies makes a powerful case.
In the 1990s the lines were clearly drawn. The Democrats were a party of fiscal rectitude and trade globalisation. They had the weight of academic economic opinion behind them. Krugman was one of the cheerleaders and enforcers of that dispensation: the job of brilliant economists with a quick pen was to guard the true knowledge against deviations to the left and the right. It isn’t by accident that Jed Bartlet – the fictional president in The West Wing, the TV fantasy that sustained liberal America during the dark Bush years – was a genial economics professor and Nobel laureate. It was a fantasy. The synthesis of brains, wisdom and power embodied in Bartlet didn’t stand up to 21st-century realities. Today, Krugman tells us, ‘everything is political.’ He has come to accept that ‘the technocratic dream – the idea of being a politically neutral analyst helping policymakers govern more effectively – is, for now at least, dead.’
Read the full article at London Review of Books