Book Review: Krugman, Paul, “Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.” Kindle Edition, 2020
Nobel economist Paul Krugman writes columns for the NY Times. He collected a bunch of them from around 2004 to 2020 and ordered them, more or less, by topic, then published it as a book. It’s a chance to learn something about contemporary economics while examining political developments.
As I have written before, the separation of political economy into two separate “disciplines” was a terrible blow to knowledge in general. Consequently, while Krugman does not deliberately try to overcome the gaps of separation, he tends to ameliorate the problem by examining political developments from an economics perspective. The “zombies” in the title are economic theories that have already been discounted, but just won’t go away. Principal among them are the monetary theories popularized by Republican zealots such as drip-down prosperity.
In the introduction, Krugman writes, “The administration of George W Bush was dishonest to a degree never before seen in U.S. politics (though now surpassed by the Trumpists), and it was obviously, it seemed t ome, taking us to war o false pretenseses. Yet nobody else with a columnin a major newspaper seemed willing to point this out. As result, I felt I had to do the job.”
Krugman’s treatments are candid and clear. He doesn’t mind exposing and naming some of the partisan sellouts who pretend that economic theory underlines outright class warfare. Krugman declares himself a modern Keynesian and argues for government spending throughout the period 2004-2020. Krugman’s co-thinkers can be pretty smug about his recommendations, both those that were applied and those that weren’t, because history is the best proof.
In my opinion, Krugman doesn’t go far enough in his analysis of modern economics. He doesn’t say outright that the liars with zombie theories are really puppets of the ruling class. He isn’t as absolute and clear as Thomas Piketty. When Krugman talks about Piketty, he seems to try to fit him in with all capitalist economists who are trying to make the system work, like Krugman himself. I don’t believe that Piketty is trying to make capitalism work.
On July 21, I wrote that I had just read Paul Krugman’s review of Piketty’s new book “Capital and Ideology.” Krugman thinks that Piketty’s work is epic, but that his conclusions are suspect. Here’s where I disagree with Krugman: “And his [Picketty’s] clear implication is that social democracy can be revived by refocusing on populist economic policies, and winning back the working class.” I don’t think that Piketty has any intention of reviving social democracy.
I haven’t read the new book, but the Piketty tome I read did not mention, anywhere, about reviving social democracy. Like any good Marxist, Picketty does not expect social democracy to be revived. Even if it was, Picketty and I would say that it was only temporary. Capitalism, all Marxists agree, is doomed. For decades now, economists have helped a ruthless and wealthy gang maintain their stranglehold to the detriment of the rest of us. In that sense, all their theories are zombies.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The talk show and “Workers Beat Extra” podcast are put on Soundcloud.com every Wednesday. I don’t mind saying what I think and I even made a personal web site that may interest you.