June 23, 2004


Paul Krugman: The Wicked Economist? (Footnotes, May/June 2004)

“An Indian born economist once explained his personal theory of reincarnation to his graduate economics class,” Paul Krugman writes in the opening paragraph of his Preface to Peddling Prosperity. “‘If you are a good economist, a virtuous economist,’ he said, ‘you are reborn as a physicist. But if you are an evil, wicked economist, you are reborn as a sociologist.’” Krugman then continues, “A sociologist might say that this quote shows what is wrong with economists: they want a subject that is fundamentally about human beings to have the mathematical certainty of the hard sciences.... But good economists know that the speaker was talking about something else entirely: the sheer difficulty of the subject. Economics is harder than physics; luckily it is not quite as hard as sociology.” (1994:xi)

A good story, but he left off the part about sociology being, luckily, not quite as hard as alchemy.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at June 23, 2004 9:53 PM

Well, what do you do to get reborn as Paul Krugman? Anyone?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at June 23, 2004 9:59 PM

I have taken economics.

I have taken physics.

Physics is far harder.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 23, 2004 10:23 PM

Bruce - A wicked alchemist?

Posted by: pj at June 23, 2004 10:40 PM

Miss Cleo?

Posted by: David Cohen at June 23, 2004 10:51 PM

Perhaps a cunning linguist.

Posted by: joe shropshire at June 23, 2004 10:51 PM

A bit sloppy, Joe.

Posted by: ratbert at June 23, 2004 11:12 PM

Not only read every word of "My Life", but believe every word of "My Life.

Posted by: H. D. Miller at June 23, 2004 11:43 PM

To get reborn Paul Krugman, you have to be "a good economist, a virtuous economist," who for reasons known only to himself, writes as though he were "an evil, wicked economist."

(Though, if one were inclined to be kind--to give the benefit of the doubt--he's just one more of the best and the brightest suffering from the insanity, hopefully temporary, that seems to be passing these days for concerned wisdom and discerning judgment.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 24, 2004 1:37 AM

Actually, all subjects, seriously pursued, are equally difficult. They are as difficult as you can stand.

What's different between disciplines is the nature of the questions you can ask, and the quality of the answers you can expect, at that level of difficulty.

Probably the biggest advantage of physics, is that concepts developed in studying simple systems (or highly simplified models of complex systems) are still useful with complex systems. This provides a path to the study of complex systems that may not even exist in other fields.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at June 24, 2004 9:10 PM