Technology

Paul Krugman's Dream Job: Nerdy Sci-Fi Hero

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In this week's New York Times Book Review, Paul Krugman admits that he was inspired to become an economist by science-fiction Grand Master Isaac Asimov. He tells the Review: "I went into economics because I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, in which social scientists save galactic civilization, and that's what I wanted to be."

I'm generally not a Krugman fan, but this speaks to my heart: At the risk of enraging the natives here in Heinlein territory, I'll admit that Asimov was my first literary hero. From age 8 through my junior year in high school, The Caves of Steel was my favorite novel, and I devoured just about every Asimov book I could get my hands on. And as someone who's suggested that watching Star Trek might play a role in one's political development, I'm in no position to judge Krugman's influences (he's admitted to being mildly embarrassed by his inspiration). 

Still, it's telling that Krugman seems to fancy himself a Hari Seldon type (or perhaps Gaal Dornick to Keynes's Seldon), a lone, scientific voice warning of impending calamity while the powers-that-be ignore him, or even attempt to shut him down. Like Seldon, Krugman tends to favor social tinkering on a massive scale, prizing the knowledge and authority of small teams of cloistered experts over the messy preferences of individuals. It's an anti-Hayek view of the world, in which the best outcomes occur when order is imposed by the few on the many.  

None of this fully explains Krugman's recent maximalist streak, in which he's argued that government is responsible for what's good about American health care and that we should greatfully credit Big Government for saving our economy from ruin (even while admitting that it's in pretty messy shape). But we can still speculate: Perhaps Krugman, not satisfied with simply being an economist, pundit, and professor, is attempting to be the world's first psychohistorian

(Update: Thanks to Matt Frost for links, background, and inspiration.) 

Brian Doherty noted the Krugman-Asimov connection back in 2007; he also wrote about 100 years of Robert Heinlein here. Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote about MULTIVAC, Isaac Asimov's fictional giant decision-making machine, here. Jacob Sullum explained why he no longer thinks Asimov would have made a great president here.