Paul Krugman on Politics, Inequality, and Following Your Curiosity (Ep. 51)

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On current politics

COWEN: You’ve been tweeting a good deal about politics lately, and in particular the notion that malevolent intentions may be stronger than you had thought. If you had to explain to someone — not using any names or even party names — but just in terms of a model, what has gone wrong for the United States lately?

My view on immigration has always been that if you aren’t at least somewhat conflicted about it, there’s something wrong with you.

On the other hand, not allowing anybody in is, from a global welfare point of view, is a terrible thing because one of the best ways to improve people’s lives is to give them a chance to move to a place where they’re more productive.

On US voters

COWEN: If I think a lot of your criticisms of the Republicans, of Donald Trump, as I read you, very often you’re saying that what’s wrong here is really quite obvious. So, that it’s still happening, is your view that somehow shame has become too weak a force? Or is it asymmetric information?


On infrastructure

COWEN: What’s your view on NIMBY versus YIMBY? Do we need to build more in America’s major cities?

On macroeconomics

COWEN: A few macro questions. How much do you worry about slowing population growth as a factor for an ongoing slowing of aggregate demand?

On things interstellar

COWEN: Will there ever be interstellar trade in intellectual property? You send your technology to a planet far away. It arrives much later, of course. Or you trade Beethoven to the aliens in return for a transporter beam? Can this work? You’ve written a paper that seems to indicate it can work.

On the Paul Krugman production function

COWEN: To finish up the discussion, a few questions about what I call the Paul Krugman production function. In the 1990s, you wrote a well-known paper. It’s called “How I Work.” It was giving people tips, not quite advice for other people, but how it is that you get things done.

Dance as if no one is watching, tweet as if no one is reading.

COWEN: You mentioned having had, around 1987, a kind of temporary dry spell in your career. How is it you pulled yourself out of that?

The great luxury of being where I am now is the end of ambition. There are no more notches I need to put in my belt, no more rungs I need to climb on the ladder. Aside from the fact that the world is going to hell otherwise, I’m just basically having a good time.

COWEN: Is that utopia or dystopia, however? Because presumably to have arrived at your current point, you’re driven in some set of ways. Now, you’re not sure what the next step is.



A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between. For new episodes, visit

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