To: Paul Krugman, NYT columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "The Magic Mountain"
First the good news about your new column for the NYT op-ed page: There is no question you are a very good writer, which makes it easy to start and finish your allotted 750 words twice a week, under your "Reckonings" heading. I've read all six or seven of them since they began running at the turn of the year and I'm happy to say that I read each one from top to bottom. By comparison, I've only finished two or three of the "Politics" columns that Gail Collins began writing some months back, and lately I only have been scanning Maureen Dowd. Maureen is normally one of the best in the biz, but lately has been writing fashion stuff of no interest to me. (She'll get back on track.)
The bad news, Dr. Paul, is that your column never reaches a conclusion. It never makes a point. It mulls over an idea or two, the way a boy pushes around the peas on his plate, but that's about it. As usual, I read every word of your "Magic Mountain" column Sunday, about the World Economic Forum gathering of the world's political and economic elite in Davos, Switzerland. About the only thing I really learned, which is possibly the reason you chose this topic, is that five years ago, these most powerful men on the planet chose YOU as a G.L.T. (Global Leader of Tomorrow). I had not known the Davos crowd had anointed you as G.L.T. five years ago, and so appreciated the fact that you used your 750 words to remind me of what a really important guy you are.
True, you did wander down a few interesting alleys. The idea that the guys at the Davos mountaintop are there to plot globalization was provocative. So was the footnote that you are in favor of globalization, except that it leaves the little guy behind, which means you aren't so sure. If you had pursued the idea, Paul, you might have discovered you have a lot in common with Pat Buchanan, but I suppose if you did, the Times would ask you to join Abe Rosenthal at the Daily News. Instead, you closed thusly: "Now with some exceptions the people who will be at Davos aren't really villains: they are no worse, though a lot richer, than the rest of us. But they have an image problem, one that threatens the process of the globalization for which they stand. Will the great and (in some cases) good who meet this week find answers to that problem? Stay tuned."
You see what I mean? "Stay tuned" is not a "Reckoning." Go back and read some of your earlier columns and you will find the same problem. Your January 5 column, which was about the stock market, meandered to this conclusion: "So which will it be -- terrific or incredible? We all have our opinions -- being a pessimist by nature, I think that things will be merely terrific -- but nobody, and I mean nobody, really knows. And a rational market would accept this ignorance, and wait for some actual evidence in favor of one side or the other." Hmmmmm.
Your January 9 column, "Triumph of Nerds," was even less satisfying, Paul. The theme was about how important Ph.D. academic economists have become in this new world. Not long ago, you pointed out, nobody listened to Ph.D. academic economists and even made fun of them. It was the supply-siders (I think you had me in mind here, Paul), who had the weight of The Wall Street Journal behind them, as well as Forbes, whom you also mentioned. Now we have been defeated and the G.L.T.'s are in charge. You cite as your evidence that the economy has been growing even though Ronald Reagan has not been President since 1989. Your conclusive evidence, though, is that Dr. Lawrence Summers, Ph.D., G.L.T., is now Treasury Secretary, and that Dr. Paul Krugman, Ph.D., G.L.T., writes a column twice a week for the New York Times!!!
And yet, you seemed uncomfortable with your theme, as the column concludes: "Still, one suspects that the role of academic economists as policy makers is a transitory phenomenon -- perhaps even a Pyrrhic victory. New challenges to orthodoxy, like the growing backlash to globalization, are also brewing. These challenges may be ill-informed, but no matter. Economics is an inherently political subject, on which everyone has an opinion; it is hard to believe that the public will be willing to defer on a sustained basis to the expertise of professors, however brilliant."
As a G.L.T., Paul, you still can be excused when your twice-a-week "Reckonings" turn into twice-a-week "Ditherings." I will still consider you the child prodigy you tell your readers you are. I will continue to read your columns, every word of "On the one hand this, on the other hand that," in hopes that at some point in the distant future, you will reach a conclusion.