(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In this collection of edgy and well-reasoned essays, economist Paul Krugman follows up his highly regarded Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations (1994) with a barrage of hard-hitting critiques challenging basic assumptions underpinning the theorizing and policies of a wide spectrum of mainstream economists and politicians whom he dubs as “pop internationalists.”

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, a period in which political discourse has increasingly swirled around economic issues pertinent to the concept of a global economy, Krugman’s often iconoclastic and inventive views have had growing impact and relevancy. As an award-winning academic who taught in the economics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (from which he received his Ph.D. in 1977) before accepting a position at Stanford University, Krugman has been lauded by his peers for scholarly work in areas ranging from international trade, international finance, and economic geography to industrial organization and governmental economic policy.Newsweek describes Krugman as “a Nobel-bound economist,” an opinion shared even by those who have been skewered by his barbs.

In addition to his prolific scholarly publications, Krugman has demonstrated a rare capacity, at least for academics, for “translating” economic theory into highly readable prose. Indeed, his considerable influence on recent economic- political discourse is a direct consequence of his ability to connect clearly with his educated, non-specialist yet concerned public. In his capacity as a public commentator, his galvanizing ideas have circulated widely in columns and articles for such varied lay publications as U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and Fortune. Krugman, a self- described liberal, also served as an advisor to Bill Clinton during the latter’s successful run for the U.S. presidency in 1992.

His connection to the Clinton campaign is an item of no small importance since some of Pop Internationalism’s essays take direct aim at prominent Clinton appointees such as Laura D’Andrea Tyson, head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor. Since the outspoken Krugman was bypassed for a high-level administrative post by Clinton, one must ask whether broadsides such as “Economic Shuttle Diplomacy: A Review of Laura D’Andrea Tyson’s Who’s Bashing Whom?’” should be read at least in part as “sour grapes”? The consensus of the book’s reviewers is “no,” especially since Krugman’s charges are extrapolations of previously argued themes. A better interpretation seems to be that Krugman is just being Krugman, and therefore calling his shots as he sees them with little regard for how they might affect whatever aspirations he might have for public office.

The Clinton connection is of further interest since the introduction to Pop Internationalism begins with Krugman’s recounting of the president-elect’s economic summit held in Little Rock, Arkansas, in December of 1992. Zeroing in on a presentation made by John Sculley, chief executive officer of Apple Computer, on the presumed new realities of the post-Cold War global economy, Krugman recalls: “Sculley described a world in which nations, like corporations, are engaged in fierce competition for global markets.” It was a scenario, which although rejected by Krugman, was met with the approval of the audience, including Bill Clinton. Pulling no punches, Krugman, with his slyly ironic and matter-of-fact approach, notes that “What was being preached in Little Rock was a kind of imitation international economics that sounded impressive and sophisticated but bore no resemblance to the real thing.” For Krugman, Little Rock was a moment of epiphany. It was also the catalyst from which arose his notion of pop internationalism, the conventional set of views held by most mainstream economists and political leaders which maintains that foreign competition endangers both the U.S. economy and U.S. jobs. The problem, according to Krugman, is that such views are the product of misguided and lazy economic thinking.

The essays included in Pop Internationalism are reprinted from Foreign Affairs, Scientific American, Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, Science, American Economic Review, Wilson Quarterly, New Perspectives Quarterly, and Harvard Business Review; the aforementioned piece on Tyson, published here for the first time, was rejected by The New York Review of Books when Krugman refused to soften his criticism. As with most collections of essays, there is a good deal of repetition. Still,...

(The entire section is 1968 words.)