More than any other recent Nobelist, Krugman is no stranger to the general public. I’m sure that his other role as a New York Times columnist and an outspoken critic of the Bush administration will be the lede in discussions of this prize. But the prize is given for scientific research, and economists of all political stripes agree that Krugman’s economic writings are Nobel-worthy.
Even so, Krugman’s broader role is not, and should not, be irrelevant. Over the past decade or so, he has been a determined crisis chaser, offering useful insights on topics like the Asian financial crisis, Latin America, and, well, the United States.
Indeed, his real-time analysis of the current crisis has been important and helpful in shaping the policy debate.
The risk of real-time policy advice is that you risk being wrong; the upside is that you may actually affect the policy debate while it is going on. Krugman has the courage to be on the right side of this risk-reward tradeoff, even as too many economists prefer being slow, correct, but irrelevant to being fast, mostly right, and extremely relevant.
Whether you like his Times columns or not, you have to admire Krugman’s tenacity. He personifies the true public intellectual, and even when he writes a column that irritates you, at least you know it involves careful thought and a true dedication to the public debate.
Beyond his column, he’s also a popular textbook author, and was one of the first economists to understand the power of the web as a way of communicating to a broader audience.
In fact, only 40 minutes after the prize was awarded, Krugman’s blog was updated with a wry message: “A funny thing happened to me this morning …”
There’s no way that Krugman will remember this, but I remember clearly the first time I met him.
In the summer following my first year of graduate school, I attended an S.S.R.C.-run workshop designed to reconnect aspiring economists with real-world economics. Krugman was a speaker at the workshop. After his talk, he spent the evening around a fireplace enjoying a few beers and sharing his career wisdom with the gathered graduate students. These sorts of investments in the economics profession don’t occur in the public eye, and they require a real belief in the power of economics.