Anticipating Paul Krugman: Early thoughts on his recent profile in the New Yorker

Paul Krugman is profiled in this week's issue of the New Yorker.

By , Guest blogger

A lengthy New Yorker bio piece on Paul Krugman is on my to-read list. (Hat tip: Tyler Cowen). I've read about half, but want to blog it before I get busy ...

One of my favorite things about Krugman is that his interest in economics was inspired to some degree by reading science fiction as a kid, especially Isaac Asimov's Foundation.

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 ?”

With Hari Seldon in mind, Krugman went to Yale, in 1970, intending to study history, but he felt that history was too much about what and not enough about why, so he ended up in economics. Economics, he found, examined the same infinitely complicated social reality that history did but, instead of elucidating its complexity, looked for patterns and rules that made the complexity seem simple.

Since a wonderful part of being alive is anticipation, I have to say that I am very happy to have Paul Krugman in my life. I have great anticipation for what he will write in 10, 15 years about science and science fiction. My guess is that he will have a voice then, an older man's voice, that he cannot have now. His voice now is very engaged in the trees of our time, not the forest of all time.

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