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Paul Krugman Tackles Zombies & Fights for a Better Future in New Book

What are zombie ideas? They’re ideas that “should have been killed by contrary evidence, but instead keep shambling along, eating people’s brains,” writes Professor Paul Krugman (The Graduate Center) in his new book, Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.

The “most persistent” zombie, Krugman says, is the false assertion that “taxing the wealthy is hugely destructive to the economy.” Another zombie notion: that “providing universal health coverage is impossible, even though every advanced country besides the U.S. somehow manages to achieve just that.”

Krugman began his career as a research economist, and in 2008 he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade theory. But for the past two decades, he’s written a popular and influential column for The New York Times. Arguing with Zombies is a selection of those columns, along with several pieces written for other outlets. The book is divided into sections on topics like social security, Obamacare, and tax cuts. Each section is prefaced with a thoughtful new essay.

Krugman doesn’t hesitate to blame zombie economics on “modern conservatism” and “pressures from the right.” But in an introduction to the book titled “The Good Fight,” Krugman sounds both combative and a bit mournful as he describes his transition from apolitical academic to “economist-pundit.” In this politically divisive era, he says, the technocrat’s “dream” of “being a politically neutral analyst” to “help policymakers govern more effectively” is dead. Instead, unfortunately, “in 21st-century America, everything is political” – even facts.

As a columnist who “wants to have an effect on public discourse,” Krugman sees it as his duty to be “honest about dishonesty” — in other words, calling out officials who misrepresent facts to further their agendas. It also means talking about “motives” when policies are likely to benefit some (usually the rich and powerful) while hurting others. “There are people,” he says, “who would gain a lot personally if we were to retrace our steps toward the Gilded Age.” 

He ends on a pessimistic but stiff-upper-lip note, saying that the book “tells a story of the fight for truth, justice, and the anti-zombie way. I don’t know if that fight can ever be fully won, although it can be lost. But it’s definitely a cause worth fighting for.”

Krugman is also a core faculty member of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at The Graduate Center.