Paul Krugman on Death Threats: "I do get rattled"

Nalin Savara nsavara at
Sun Sep 21 15:23:51 PDT 2003

> Paul Krugman is a courageous educated important columnist.
> Once again, the voice of reason is under assult.  Why am I not
> surprised...
> 'I do get rattled'
> Paul Krugman is a mild-mannered university economist. He is also a
> New York Times columnist and President Bush's most scathing critic.
> Hence the death threats. He talks to Oliver Burkeman
> Friday September 19, 2003
> The Guardian
> The letters that Paul Krugman receives these days have to be picked
> up with tongs, and his employer pays someone to delete the death
> threats from his email inbox. This isn't something that can be said
> of most academics, and emphatically not of economic theorists, but
> Krugman isn't a typical don. Intercepting him in London on his way
> back home to New Jersey after a holiday in France, I half expect to
> find a couple of burly minders keeping a close eye on him, although
> they would probably have to be minders with a sound grasp of
> Keynesian macroeconomics. "I can't say I never get rattled," the
> gnomish, bearded 50-year-old Princeton University professor says a
> little hesitantly, looking every inch the ivory-tower thinker he
> might once have expected to be. "When it gets personal, I do get
> rattled."
> What drives his critics hysterical is not, it ought to be clarified,
> his PhD thesis on flexible exchange rates, or his well-regarded
> textbook on the principles of economics, co-written with his wife,
> the economist Robin Wells; nor the fact that he is probably the world
> authority on currency crises. For the past five years, Krugman - a
> lifelong academic with the exception of a brief stint as an economics
> staffer under Reagan - has been moonlighting as a columnist on the
> New York Times op ed page, a position so influential in the US that
> it has no real British parallel. And though that paper's editors seem
> to have believed that they were hiring him to ponder abstruse matters
> of economic policy, it didn't work out that way.
> Accustomed to the vigorous ivy league tradition of calling a stupid
> argument a stupid argument (and isolated, at home in New Jersey, from
> the Washington dinner-party circuit frequented by so many other
> political columnists) he has become pretty much the only voice in the
> mainstream US media to openly and repeatedly accuse George Bush of
> lying to the American people: first to sell a calamitous tax cut, and
> then to sell a war.
> "It's an accident," Krugman concedes, addressing the question of how
> it came to be that the Bush administration's most persuasively
> scathing domestic critic isn't a loudmouthed lefty radical in the
> manner of Michael Moore, but a mild-mannered, not-very-leftwing,
> university economist, tipped among colleagues as a future Nobel
> prizewinner. "The Times hired me because it was the height of the
> internet bubble; they thought business was what would be really
> interesting. Turned out the world was different from what we
> imagined... for the past two-and-a-half years, I've watched what
> began as dismay and disbelief gradually turn into foreboding. Every
> time you think, well, yes, but they wouldn't do that - well, then
> they do."
> Even more confusing for those who like their politics to consist of
> nicely pigeonholed leftwingers criticising rightwingers, and vice
> versa, will be the incendiary essay that introduces Krugman's new
> collection of columns, The Great Unravelling, published in the UK
> next week. In it, Krugman describes how, just as he was about to send
> his manuscript to the publishers, he chanced upon a passage in an old
> history book from the 1950s, about 19th-century diplomacy, that
> seemed to pinpoint, with eerie accuracy, what is happening in the US
> now. Eerie, but also perhaps a little embarrassing, really, given the
> identity of the author. Because it's Henry Kissinger.
> "The first three pages of Kissinger's book sent chills down my
> spine," Krugman writes of A World Restored, the 1957 tome by the man
> who would later become the unacceptable face of cynical realpolitik.
> Kissinger, using Napoleon as a case study - but also, Krugman
> believes, implicitly addressing the rise of fascism in the 1930s -
> describes what happens when a stable political system is confronted
> with a "revolutionary power": a radical group that rejects the
> legitimacy of the system itself.
> This, Krugman believes, is precisely the situation in the US today
> (though he is at pains to point out that he isn't comparing Bush to
> Hitler in moral terms). The "revolutionary power", in Kissinger's
> theory, rejects fundamental elements of the system it seeks to
> control, arguing that they are wrong in principle. For the Bush
> administration, according to Krugman, that includes social security;
> the idea of pursuing foreign policy through international
> institutions; and perhaps even the basic notion that political
> legitimacy comes from democratic elections - as opposed to, say, from
> God.
> But worse still, Kissinger continued, nobody can quite bring
> themselves to believe that the revolutionary power really means to do
> what it claims. "Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed
> permanent," he wrote, "they find it nearly impossible to take at face
> value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash
> the existing framework." Exactly, says Krugman, who recallss the
> response to his column about Tom DeLay, the anti-evolutionist
> Republican leader of the House of Representatives, who claimed,
> bafflingly, that "nothing is more important in the face of a war than
> cutting taxes".
> "My liberal friends said, 'I'm not interested in what some crazy guy
> in Congress has to say'," Krugman recalls. "But this is not some
> crazy guy! This guy runs Congress! There's this fundamental
> unwillingness to acknowledge the radicalism of the threat we're
> facing." But those who point out what is happening, Kissinger had
> already noted long ago, "are considered alarmists; those who counsel
> adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane." ("Those
> who take the hard-line rightists now in power at their word are
> usually accused of being 'shrill', of going over the top," Krugman
> writes, and he has become well used to such accusations.)
> Which is how, as Krugman sees it, the Bush administration managed to
> sell tax cuts as a benefit to the poor when the result will really be
> to benefit the rich, and why they managed to rally support for war in
> Iraq with arguments for which they didn't have the evidence.
> Journalists "find it very hard to deal with blatantly false
> arguments," he argues. "By inclination and training, they always try
> to see two sides to an issue, and find it hard even to conceive that
> a major political figure is simply lying."
> Krugman can expect many more accusations of shrillness now that The
> Great Unravelling is on the bookshelves in the US. Already, he says,
> Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the federal reserve, is refusing to
> talk to him - "because I accused him of being essentially an
> apologist for Bush". And there will be plenty of invective,
> presumably, from the conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, who
> hauled Krugman over the coals for accepting a $50,000 (£30,000)
> adviser's fee from Enron. (Krugman ended the arrangement before
> beginning his New York Times column, and told his readers about it.
> "I was a hot property, very much in demand as a speaker to business
> audiences: I was routinely offered as much as $50,000 to speak to
> investment banks and consulting firms," he wrote later, by way of
> justification - demonstrating the knack for blowing his own trumpet
> that even politically sympathetic colleagues find grating. They say
> he has had a chip on his shoulder since failing to get a job in the
> Clinton administration.)
> Still, there's an important sense in which his views remain
> essentially moderate: unlike the growing numbers of America-bashers
> in Europe, Krugman doesn't make the nebulous argument that there is
> something inherently objectionable about the US and its role in the
> world. He claims only that a fundamentally benign system has been
> taken over by a bunch of extremists - and so his alarming analysis
> leaves room for optimism, because they can be removed. "One of the
> Democratic candidates - who I'm not endorsing, because I'm not
> allowed to endorse - has as his slogan, 'I want my country back',"
> Krugman says, referring to the campaigning motto of Howard Dean. "I
> think that's about right."
> Or, to quote a state department official who put it pungently to a
> reporter earlier this year, describing the dominance of the Pentagon
> hawks: "I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been
> a military coup'. And then it all makes sense."
> · The Great Unravelling is published by Penguin

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