Interesting profile of Krugman in the New Yorker. I knew they worked together on writing textbooks, but I didn’t realize his wife Robin had so much influence on his columns – go figure!
Krugman doesn’t know how long he’ll be writing his column. Maybe he’ll get tired of it, maybe the Times will kick him out, who knows. But, after the column, then what? He’s checked off pretty much all the career boxes, he reckons. There are some big questions in development that he’d like to think seriously about. “How is it that most of the world remains so poor?” he says. “That was the old mystery. The new mystery is ‘Why is it that every once in a while it’s as if somebody turned on a switch and some previously hapless country suddenly goes soaring?’ ”
But it’s been a long time—years now—since he did any serious research. Could he, still? “I’d like to get back to it,” he says. “I’m craving the chance to do some deep thinking, and I haven’t been doing a lot of that. I guess doing the really creative academic work does require a state of mind that’s hard to maintain throughout your whole life. Even Paul Samuelson—the bulk of the stuff you read from him is before he was fifty. There was an intensity of focus that I had when I was twenty-six that I won’t be able to recapture at fifty-six. You develop your habits of mind, and to a point that’s a good thing, because you learn ways to work, but it does mean that you’re less likely to come up with something really innovative. Even if I weren’t doing all this other stuff, I don’t think I’d be producing a lot of breakthrough papers. There’s crude stuff: if I do have some brilliant academic insight, what are they going to do, give me a Nobel Prize? . . . When I was younger, when I figured something out there was this sense of the heavens parting and the choirs singing that I don’t get now. And that’s life.”
For someone else, this loss might be a devastation, but even though for thirty years thinking deeply about economics was all Krugman really cared about, he has let it pass out of his life without regret. “I think he’s happy,” his friend Craig Murphy says. “A much happier person now than when we first met him. He feels like he’s done good things, and they’re greater than what he expected when he was young. If there is sadness in him at all, I think it is a tiny core of profound sadness of the kind that the Buddha understood—that we probably can’t use human rationality to make the world all better, and it would be really nice if we were able to.”