I don't read Paul Krugman anymore.
Actually, that's not technically true: over Christmas I read through his book on the recent financial crisis. This is partly because Krugman has a rare gift for making economic concepts accessible to the lay reader: it's hard to find anyone who can write a book that explains the complexities of the financial crisis as lucidly as he does.
But I don't read Paul Krugman the blogger/op-edder anymore. This is not because I'm not open to his ideas, or that I don't think he has anything important to say - it's more because I feel that I already know what he's going to say.
You see, I fear that the blogger Krugman is no longer contributing nuanced ideas to the debate over economic policy. Rather, he has developed a set of positions and has chosen to simply bang on about them repeatedly. It is as though he has given up on his academic roots to become a mere public pundit for a particular point of view. The debate is over; all that's left is to convince the other side that your side is right.
He has, in other words, become the Richard Dawkins of the macroeconomy debate. Both are very clever and accomplished academics who have contributed original and valuable insights into their respective fields of study. Both have since taken up positions of being public spokespersons for controversial topics. And both are increasingly one-sided and uncompromising in their views. They have become almost a caricature of the viewpoints they espouse. Indeed, Krugman seems to have become more a slogan-generating-machine than anything else.
And it's entertaining stuff, no doubt. This sort of approach is great for running up blog traffic and book sales. However, I'm willing to bet that most people who read Paul Krugman do so to either a) reinforce their own preconceptions and feel better about themselves, or b) find a reason to get really angry. Ditto for Richard Dawkins, by the way.
The unfortunate bit about all of this is that anyone who is genuinely interested in a nuanced discussion about the economy and public policy must look elsewhere. As a case in point, the Economist's latest lead article is on the debate over government austerity measures. Krugman is mentioned in the piece as being a leading figure of the anti-austerity crowd, but is criticized for his "crude Keynesianism." Krugman's responsive post was entitled "I’m Gonna Haul Out The Next Guy Who Calls Me “Crude” And Punch Him In The Kisser." This, despite the fact that the article actually sides more closely with his point of view than the austerity folks.
Like I said, I get it: Paul's being funny and hyperbolic and whimsical. This is entertaining to read. But it doesn't actually address the issue. By focusing who is being labelled as what, who is on which side of the debate and who is falling victim to latest playful slogan that he's come up with, Krugman is reducing the quality of the debate as opposed to enhancing it. What a shame.