Paul Krugman returns to the Northshire

Will discuss 'Arguing With Zombies' at Maple Street School

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MANCHESTER — Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman didn't intend for his new book, "Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future," to be a 2020 presidential election "campaign book," sharing bookstore shelves with candidates' position papers and pundits' observations.

But the publication of "Arguing With Zombies," and Krugman's Saturday, March 7 appearance at Manchester's Maple Street School, presented by the Northshire Bookstore, arrive at a crucial juncture in the presidential race. His visit to the Northshire will come four days after the Super Tuesday primaries, in which voters in Vermont and 14 other states and territories will choose a nominee to run against President Donald Trump in the fall.

"I hope it's a bit more than a campaign book," Krugman said in an email exchange. "But I do hope that readers will get some idea of the extent to which the economic ideas that dominate much of our politics aren't based on reality, and that this says something about politicians who embrace them."

Krugman, whose non-scholarly books include "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007), is opposed to the financial policies of the Trump Administration, most notably the 2017 tax cuts on corporations. His writing for the Times takes congressional Republicans to task for their support of these policies.

"For example, even supposedly moderate Republicans embraced the zombie idea that tax cuts pay for themselves," Krugman said. "The majority of Republicans in Congress deny the reality of climate change; and so on. This should influence how people vote."

"Arguing with Zombies" is largely culled from Krugman's columns for The New York Times. It's broken down into a series of concise chapters explaining issues such as health care, housing bubbles, tax reform and Social Security.

Joe Donahue of WAMC Northeast Public Radio will host the discussion. It will be taped and broadcast on WAMC as part of "Off The Shelf: Authors in Conversation," a partnership between the radio network and the bookstore.

While a professor at Princeton, Krugman won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2008 "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity." He's currently a distinguished professor of economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Centenary Professor at London School of Economics.

Krugman previously visited Manchester to speak about his 2003 book "The Great Unraveling," according to bookstore co-owner Chris Morrow. In recent years, the bookstore has hosted big-name authors including John Grisham, Tatiana Schlossberg, Jodi Picoult and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"It is always a lot of effort to get big-name authors here. We really appreciate his time and the effort to come to Manchester," Morrow said of Krugman's visit. "We hope people come away more informed, somewhat entertained and open to further discussion about the important topics of our day."

The rest of our email Q-and-A with Krugman follows:

Landscapes: The title refers to economic theories and policies that are still embraced despite the fact they're widely disproven — most notably, the notion that tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations result in reinvestment, job creation and higher wages leading to economic growth. Why is it these ideas refuse to die despite evidence to the contrary? And why do voters support politicians who support these policies?

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Krugman: Most zombie ideas are kept alive, or anyway undead, because they serve the interests of billionaires; that's certainly the case for belief in the magic of tax cuts and climate change denial. Overall, I wouldn't say that voters support these ideas — a clear majority says taxes on the rich should go up, not down. But the zombie ideas confuse the issue, and allow politicians to win votes by appealing to other things, especially racial antagonism.

Landscapes: Follow-up: Is it possible to convince American voters in 2020 that they ought to reconsider what they believe to be true, and change their minds? What would it take?

Krugman: I have less faith than I'd like in the power of persuasion. But I have some hope that voters can be alerted to the fact that health reform has been a huge if incomplete success, and take action against politicians who are trying to take the gains away.

Landscapes: Many Vermonters are concerned about climate change and believe it ought to be treated as an emergency. Is it possible to reduce emissions, and convert the fossil fuel-driven economy to renewable energy, without there being significant unintended negative consequences from a slowing of economic growth? What could that look like?

Krugman: Economic growth and environmentalism aren't enemies. These days, renewable energy is very cost-competitive, and only needs a push from policy to make huge strides. And a low-emission economy would probably look a lot like the economy we have: people would still be able to drive cars, have lots of electrical appliances, and in general lead modern lives. The idea that saving the planet means giving up the good life is another one of those zombie ideas, unfortunately with some support on the left as well as the right.

Landscapes: Here in Vermont, Bernie Sanders has strong support. Are his ideas economically feasible? And are they really radical ideas?

Krugman: Sanders isn't a socialist; he's a social democrat, who says he admires Denmark. And Denmark works! My main concern is that Sanders likes to pose as more radical than he is, which sounds to me like a possible recipe for electoral disaster.

Landscapes: How did this country get to a place where facts that should shape policy are now successfully countered by "alternative facts" such as denying climate change or insisting tax cuts on the wealthiest 1 percent will pay for themselves? Is it our education system, our media or perhaps both? And how do we get back to a place where facts matter to voters and citizens when they make choices?

Krugman: If I can be a bit cynical: most people never did pay much attention to policy issues. I mean, people have jobs and children and lives to live. They relied on elites to screen out lies and nonsense. So it's the corruption of the elites, not the ignorance of ordinary citizens, that got us here.

Landscapes: You have spoken at the Northshire Bookstore before. You could speak anywhere. Is there something about this place, or about the audience here, that keeps you coming back to Vermont?

Krugman: Well, it's a big store, and kind of a symbol of independent bookstores in general. And I happen to really like Vermont.

Greg Sukiennik is editor of Southern Vermont Landscapes.


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