Pop Internationalism

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"Pop internationalists" — people who speak impressively about international trade while ignoring basic economics and misusing economic figures are the target of this collection of Paul Krugman's most recent essays. In the clear,readable, entertaining style that brought acclaim for his best-selling Age of Diminished Expectations, Krugman explains what real economic analysis is. He discusses economic terms and measurements, like "value-added" and GDP, in simple language so that readers can understand how pop internationalists distort, and sometimes contradict, the most basic truths about world trade.All but two of the essays have previously appeared in such publications as Foreign Affairs, Scientific American, and the Harvard Business Review. The first five essays take on exaggerations of foreign competition's effects on the U.S. economy and represent Krugman's central criticisms of public debate over world trade. The next three essays expose further distortions of economic theory and include the complete,unaltered, controversial review of Laura Tyson's Who's Bashing Whom. The third group of essays highlights misconceptions about competition from less industrialized countries. The concluding essays focus on interesting and legitimate economic questions, such as the effects of technological change on society.

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Editorial Reviews

Paul Krugman leans back in his chair, arms behind his head, relishing his notoriety. He is reciting, like verse, his favorite hate mail. "Your article made me want to throw up," says one letter. "Stanford should fire you." says another. "You snide elitist," writes a third fan. Vicious epithets are everyday fare in the voluminous correspondence of America's most controversial economist. "'Arrogant assh---e' is the best phrase I've heard lately," Krugman chuckles, a little nervously. The anonymous missives can occasionally be scary, he admits. Like the one that warned him to stay out of Washington -- adding, for good measure, "Jew boy." Who is Paul Krugman and why do people say such nasty things about him? And why is a mere economist drawing the kind of fire usually reserved for real celebrities -- say, Rush Limbaugh? Simple. The Stanford University scholar has been puncturing the reputations of policy wonks all over Washington. In a prodigious spate of essays and books -- the latest, Pop Internationalism, hits the stores next week -- Krugman has launched a one-man crusade to shatter the era's most cherished economic myths. Among the most pernicious: the very CW idea that in our dog-eat-dog, post-cold-war world, America must viciously compete for jobs and markets against other nations. But more on that in a moment. What most riles the wonks is that Krugman is impossible to ignore. Born on New York's Long Island, educated at MIT, he's one of the world's most eminent trade theorists ­ a future Nobel Prize winner, in the view of his peers. He's not just some ivory-tower type, either; he writes eloquently and simply for the public. "A lot of dumb stuff passes for sophistication out there," says the frenetic, gnomishly handsome Krugman, his brown eyes darting to and fro as a cascade of ideas tumbles from his mouth. "What amazes me is that people will have a vast thesis of the world economy and what it's doing to us -- and not check their facts." Since his popular 1994 book Peddling Prosperity, Krugman has been asserting "the facts" as he sees them. Along the way, he's debunked the conventional wisdom on nearly every hotbutton trade issue dear to Washington -- not to mention the Pat Buchanan parade. There is a Krugman take on the trade deficit with Japan. (Unimportant. An infinitesimal impact on GDP.) On jobs and wages lost to cheap Third World labor. (Hugely overstated: far less damaging than lagging productivity and new technology.) On the notion that economic war has replaced the cold war. (Gibberish: unlike war, trade is not a zero-sum game.) On the idea that nations compete with each other. (They don't, because unlike corporations, they can't go bankrupt and their "employees" ­ the citizens -- mainly buy and sell among themselves.) You could think of Krugman as a sort of highbrow version of James (The Amazing) Randi, the magician who goes around telling the real story of how rivals bend spoons using the power of their minds, and such stuff. For he delights in skewering the fallacies and errors of math made by way he calls Washington's ever-growing legions of "policy entrepreneurs." Nor is he shy about naming names, some of them very prominent Washingtonians indeed. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a much-quoted proponent of national competitiveness, is an "offensive figure, a brilliant coiner of one-liners but not a serious thinker." Trade maven Clyde Prestowitz, a hard-liner on Japan, is little more than an intellectual snake-oil salesman, by Krugman's lights. Lester Thurow, the MIT economist and author of the bestselling Head to Head: The Coming Battle Among America, Japan and Europe, is a "silly" writer who doesn't do his homework. Say this for Krugman: though an unabashed liberal (he plans to vote for Bill Clinton), he's ideologically colorblind. He savages the supply-siders of the Reagan-Bush era with the same glee as he does the "strategic traders" of the Clinton administration. "Paul's great strength," says Farced Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, which publishes some of his most inflammatory stuff "is that he's not intimidated by authority -- either intellectual or political." In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Krugman accused flat-taxer Steve Forbes of dwelling in economic "never-never land." He blames Buchanan's rise partly on the Clintonians for feeding an atmosphere of xenophobia (about Japan, in particular) that played to the new front runner's primitive populism. "Buchanan wouldn't be able to get away with this," he says, "if policy entrepreneurs hadn't created an intellectual rationale for it." Buchanan is an easy target for any Econ 1O1 graduate. He's a protectionist Visigoth rattling at the hallowed gates of free trade. But there's probably no one better qualified to challenge the Republican candidate on these issues than Krugman. Among his Nobel-caliber work, he has shown that trade barriers not only boost prices at home and give consumers less choice, the usual opposing arguments. They also "fragment" markets globally -- and in doing so make everyone poorer. Krugman doesn't short-sell America's economic problems. He is alarmed at the country's widening income gap, for one. He was also among the first to warn of the blue- and whitecollar backlash against corporate layoffs -- which Buchanan is effectively exploiting. "I'm terrified of what's happening to our society," says Krugman. But the remedies he would propose "mostly involve improving and strengthening exactly what we're tearing apart -- health care for our children, a decent education for poor kids, things like the earned income tax credit." What he's after, he says, is a sense of proportion. "If this administration would put a tenth as much of its attention into trying to prevent a million kids from being thrown into poverty as it did into extracting a few more exports from Japan, we'd all be better off." Sharp-tongued maverick Krugman's critics see him as a spiteful self-promoter. "It's gratuitous spleen," says sometime Krugman target James Fallows, a journalist whose economic writing has reportedly influenced Buchanan. "He behaves like someone with a massive chip on his shoulder," adds former commerce secretary Jeffrey Garten. Was Krugman peeved because Laura D'Andrea Tyson, and not he, was originally chosen as Clinton's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- as many of his detractors suggest? Not at all, he says. "I'm temperamentally unsuited for that kind of role. You have to be very good at people skills, biting your tongue when people say silly things." Krugman's outspokenness, Newsweek has learned, is the main reason the Clinton administration didn't offer him a job. Yet the White House may regret the snub. If anything, Krugman has probably had more impact as an outsider than he would have had as just another brilliant insider-economist. For instance, there has already been noticeably less talk of national "competitiveness" among the policymakers Krugman has targeted for attack. That's all to the good, thinks the sharp-tongued maverick. Curing bad economics and catching false "facts," he says, is a bit like flushing cockroache s down the toilet: "They always come back." To the dismay of his victims, Krugman will no doubt be there to yank the chain.
Automotive Production
"At this point the conversation gets unpleasant, with some remark about this kind of thing being the reason why people hate economists." So writes Paul Krugman -- economist -- in Pop Internationalism. As for what point "this point" is: Let's put it this way: I suspect that many people in the country, especially those who are touting the importance of American competitiveness vis-à-vis foreign countries, will find their stomach acid to resemble levels equaled by Noah's flood at darn near any point in Pop Internationalism, a collection of 13 essays written for a variety of audiences, from Scientific American to the Harvard Business Review. Although I never thought that I'd want to recommend a book related to economics (I must confess to being able to make it to just the 14th page of Krugman's Development, Geography, and Economic Theory, published last fall by The MIT Press), this one has changed my mind. Krugman, who is a professor of economics at Stanford University, is not against jobs or wealth creation or a high standard of living in the U.S. What bothers him is what he considers to be the uniformed, disinformed and/or ill-informed, oft-heard and consequently prevailing notion about trade that he characterizes as "pop internationalism." He defines "pop internationalism": "In effect, it portrays America as being like a corporation that used to have a lot of monopoly power, and could therefore earn comfortable profits in spite of sloppy business practices, that is now facing a new onslaught from new competition." He quotes President Bill Clinton as having stated in a speech: "Now the United States is like a big corporation in the world economy." That is a simile that Krugman finds to be flat-out wrong, simplistic and, in some cases, dangerous. Let me hasten to point out that although Krugman criticizes some of the positions of President Clinton and current and former advisors including Robert Reich, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, and Ira Magaziner, this book is not one that the Republican Party is likely to buy in bulk, either. People including Clyde Prestowitz take hits, too. Krugman is so catholic in his criticism, I wonder who he hangs around with. Krugman is pro-productivity, but for a reason that is unlike the one that seems to be held by people across the political spectrum. According to Krugman, "high productivity is beneficial, not because it helps a country to compete with other countries, but because it lets a country produce and therefore consume more. This would be true in a closed economy: it is no more and no less true in an open economy.. ." He notes that his ideas about productivity aren't particularly trendy: he even harkens back to David Ricardo, a 19th century economist, who explained, Krugman writes, "a country whose productivity lags that of its trading partners in all or almost all industries will export those goods in which its productivity disadvantage is smallest. In the standard terminology of international economics, a country will always find a range of goods in which it has a 'comparative advantage' even if there are no goods in which it has an 'absolute advantage.'" Or, if one country is good at producing high-skill goods and high-labor goods and another country is not as good, the first country has an absolute advantage. But say the second country is so-so in high-labor goods. The first country is likely to concentrate its efforts on the high-skill sector and import product from the second country, which means that the second country will have a comparative advantage. Krugman seems to be making an extended and repeated argument that flag waving, table thumping and other rhetorical flourishes that are evidence of more heat than light are misleading and will not help people concentrate on the real issues at hand. There should be little doubt that Krugman is interested in continuing the prosperity in the U.S. if, for no other reason than I suspect that economies professors aren't exactly highly valued in societies where the standard of living is sub-par. The core of the book is this: "The sources of U.S. difficulties are overwhelmingly domestic, and the nation's plight would be much the same even if world markets had not become more integrated. The share of manufacturing in GDP is declining because people are buying relatively fewer goods: manufacturing employment is falling because companies are replacing workers with machines and making more efficient use of those they retain. Wages have stagnated because the rate of productivity growth in the economy as a whole has slowed. and less skilled workers in particular are suffering because a high-technology economy has less and less demand for their services. Our trade with the rest of the world plays at best a small role in each case." We don't need to go looking for false enemies. As Krugman puts it. "It is important to get these things right. Improving American economic performance is an arduous tusk. It will be impossible one if we start from the misconceived notion that our problem is essentially one of international competitiveness." We can start with ourselves.
Kirkus Reviews
On the evidence of the lively collection of essays at hand, there's nothing dismal about the social science practiced by Stanford University professor Krugman (Peddling Prosperity, 1994, etc.).

In a baker's dozen pieces (previously published in Foreign Affairs, Harvard Business Review, and other blue-chip journals), the author gleefully corrects what he construes as major errors corrupting public discourse on the economics of international trade. Using statistical data readily available from US government agencies, Krugman dismisses as "a dangerous obsession" the widely accepted notion that countries (like corporations) are in win-lose competition with one another. He goes on to make a persuasive case for the proposition that domestic productivity is the key determinant of growth in employment and living standards throughout a world that is appreciably less interdependent than commonly believed. Among other unfortunate consequences, the author argues, the simplistic doctrine of global rivalry has the power to cloud the minds of appointive and elected officials, who may use it to misallocate resources, impose trade restrictions, or commit other policy blunders. While he characterizes the export/import game's stakes as relatively small, Krugman is at frequent pains to support, if not advance, the free-trade cause. In aid of this objective, he takes on some influential high-profile peers (Paul Kennedy, Edward Luttwak, Robert Reich, et al.) and documents precisely how their anecdotal evidence and figures fail to add up. Covered in equally iconoclastic fashion are NAFTA (a political rather than a commercial alliance, in the author's convincing opinion), the unsustainable gains logged for Asia's newly industrializing nations, and the reality that technology has a greater impact on job rates than trade.

An informed and informative audit of the all-too-conventional wisdom that, as per Gresham's law, can drive common sense from the marketplace of ideas.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262611336
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 2/7/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 237
  • Sales rank: 1,060,566
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a New York Times columnist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008.

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Table of Contents

1 Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession 3
2 Proving My Point 25
3 Trade, Jobs, and Wages 35
4 Does Third World Growth Hurt First World Prosperity? 49
5 The Illusion of Conflict in International Trade 69
6 Myths and Realities of U.S. Competitiveness 87
7 Economic Shuttle Diplomacy: A Review of Laura D'Andrea Tyson's Who's Bashing Whom? 105
8 What Do Undergrads Need to Know about Trade? 117
9 Challenging Conventional Wisdom 129
10 The Uncomfortable Truth about NAFTA 155
11 The Myth of Asia's Miracle 167
12 Technology's Revenge 191
13 The Localization of the World Economy 205
Index 215
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