David R. Henderson  

Favorite "Liberal" Economist

Anti-Economist Bias Yes, Conse... Another Speaking Opportunity...

In the 1990s, before Paul Krugman became a regular columnist for the New York Times, my friend Alan Reynolds referred to Krugman as "my favorite Keynesian economist." What he had in mind, I think, was Krugman's great popular articles on trade in which he criticized trade barriers and defended the right of people in poor countries to work for low wages (but wages that exceeded those they could otherwise earn), a right that (http://www.davidrhenderson.com/articles/1096_thecaseforsweatshops.html) many in the United States were trying to deny them. Krugman was one of my favorites too. In an article I wrote after he won the Nobel prize, I stated:

Unfortunately, although his writing in the 1990s was highly educational, Krugman's columns in the New York Times have often been the opposite. He often heaps scorn on and challenges the motives of those who disagree with him. For example, in a September 14, 2003, article titled "The Tax-Cut Con," Krugman took a lot of space to attack the motives of those who advocated tax cuts, but very little to actually analyze the 2001 tax cut. The closest he came was to point out that most of the benefits of the tax cut went to the highest-income people. But he didn't mention two other relevant facts: (1) almost everyone got about the same percent tax cut; and (2) high-income people pay a disproportionate share of taxes. Those two facts together mean, mathematically, that the highest-income people will get a large percent of the benefits of the tax cut. This is the kind of simple arithmetic point that the Krugman of the 1990s would have made. I miss him.

Dan Klein and Harika Ann Barlett have documented the kinds of articles Krugman now writes.

But enough about Krugman. Let's have some fun. Here's my question:

Who's your favorite "liberal" economist and why?

By "liberal," of course, I mean the corrupted American sense of the word, not the European sense. In Europe, "liberal" still means classical liberal or libertarian. When I say "why," I mean tell what you like about him/her. It might be specific things the person has said, written, or done. You can also tell a couple of things you don't like, but be sparing with that or otherwise this could quickly degenerate. Civility please.

I'll start with mine: Alice Rivlin. I like how she pushed for separating the short-term parts of Congress's stimulus package from the long-term, expand-government-permanently parts. I also like the fact that she was an internal critic of the Clinton health-care plan in 1993 and 1994.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (29 to date)
Carl Jakobsson writes:

"In Europe, "liberal" still means classical liberal or libertarian."

Not everywhere in Europe, unfortunately. In Sweden, a liberal is either something like a social democrat or ordoliberal, or a classical liberal/libertarian, and most seem to associate the label with the former rather than the later. Still, if you have a "liberal view" on an issue, that is almost always the same as having a libertarian view.

John V writes:

Dani Rodrik

He's thoughtful, writes good stuff and keeps his blog "economic" and not political.

megapolisomancy writes:

In Europe "liberal" typically refers to political parties that favor more free markets, less regulation, and less welfare spending *compared to the other political parties*. But it would not be accurate to state that the word still means classical liberal or libertarian.

As a matter of fact, many European liberal parties favor a degree of government interference similar to what Democrats in the US advocate. Although European liberal political parties often include advocates of classical liberalism, these views rarely constitute the dominant school of thought.

Eddy Elfenbein writes:

I thought Robert Reich's book, Super Capitalism was very good.

gnat writes:

Krugman's mine. He says: "show me your model". As Posner points out, libertarians have no model to describe what happened. One of the differences I have noticed is in how different economists characterize the contraction.Krugman thinks the difference is those who think this contraction is no big deal and those who do. Tyler thinks the difference is between those who think that a stimulus won’t work (misinterpreting Leijonhufvud) and those who do. Some conservative economists think that investment spending is more important because it will produce future growth that will justify the debt. Some fear new government programs.

I think that Krugman would agree with Keynes: “Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

Classic liberal writes:

I agree with megapilomancy. Being from Spain, I can tell you that "liberalism" ("liberalismo", in Spanish) has a wide meaning. And, of course, the term can be applied to those who, despite not being social-democrats, advocate an high degree of intervention.

That's why we have a problem with the words. You, in the USA, have lost the term "liberal". In a different way, we have lost it too. Hayek, in Why I am not a Conservative, mentions this problem. In his opinion, "liberalism" leads to confusion and "libertarianism" is an artificial word. He, then, defends the use of the term "old whig". I agree with him about the use of those both terms, but I prefer "classic liberalism".

Zdeno writes:

Tyler Cowen

Ohhhh snap

US writes:

"In Europe, "liberal" still means classical liberal or libertarian."


Well, in Denmark "liberal" and "social democrat" (socialdemokrat) are pretty much the same thing, and if a "liberal" from Denmark were to move to the States, he would most likely be considered almost a communist by most Americans.

Denmark has had a "liberal" government for almost 8 years, and that government has managed to get us the world's highest taxes, overtaking even Sweden. The few classical liberals/libertarians living in Denmark therefore often like to call themselves "liberalister", to differentiate themselves from the so called liberals ("liberale").

Snark writes:

My favorite progressive economist is Laura D’Andrea Tyson. By “progressive,” of course, I mean the sanitized American sense of the word “liberal.”

Even at the advanced age of 61, she is captivatingly beautiful (I suspect this attribute, more than any other, is what influenced former President Clinton to offer her CEA chair). She may possess other, less notable, attributes for which she is uniquely qualified to comment on matters of economic policy, but who cares.

Following is a predictable ideological argument posed by Mrs. Tyson (along with fellow Clintonistas John Podesta and Sarah Rosen Wartell) excerpted from A Practical and Progressive Economic Stimulus and Recovery Plan:

“In short, we urge discipline and focus in crafting a compelling and progressive package not susceptible to predictable ideological counter-arguments. We also urge firmness in rejecting conservative proposals that are neither stimulative nor targeted nor sound fiscal policy, regardless of their popular appeal.”

Zac writes:

Tyler Cowen :-)

Daniel Reeves writes:

Krugman has lost some of his luster but he's still a favorite of mine. Brad DeLong is pretty good too.

Blackadder writes:

Herbert Gintis. His Amazon.com reviews tend to be far more readable and informative than what you're apt to find in, say, the New York Times.

dWj writes:

Not an answer to your question, but I think Krugman's writing quality varies less with time than with audience. His articles are a joy to read; his non-technical writing addressing economists a pleasant way to pass time; his popular writing in pop-technical magazines is okay, and his books are tolerable. His Times column isn't.

lukas writes:

Well, at least here in France libéral (and its near synonym néo-libéral) are still universally in use as smears directed at people who advocate economic liberty. No politician who hopes to win another election in her lifetime will allow herself to be called a libéral.

As for my favorite liberal economist? I'd still have to go with Krugman, if only because people tend to listen to him even when he says sensible things on economic policy. Granted, he's wrong on many, many subjects but still much less so than your average "guy on the streets".

dearieme writes:

I like the cheerful economic journalism of J K Galbraith. "He's dead" you say? Well, most of them are, at least intellectually.

Jayson Virissimo writes:

A few weeks ago I would have said Brad Delong, but since then I have learned that he deletes tons of comments on his blog simply for disagreeing with him and I am finding it harder and harder to keep reading his posts.

RL writes:

Please delete Larry Summers and Austan Goolsbee from the list of options...

liberty writes:

I like Leijonhufvud a lot, he has a very interesting way of approaching the dynamics of the economy. He is often right for the first five or ten minutes or pages until he makes some grave error and comes to the wrong conclusion.

I also like Stiglitz, mainly because of Wither Socialism, in which he used economic history and theory together to conclude, essentially, that Hayek and Mises were right all along. Unfortunately he mixed in a bunch of errors based on static (Walras) and aggregation (Keynes) fallacies, to conclude that some kind of market socialism would still work.

liberty writes:

dearieme -

You still have baby galbraith. He is also J K Galbraith, you know, and there isn't much difference so far as I can tell. I agree, they are fun liberals. Easy targets.

random buy writes:

Robert Solow.

A witty write, and developed the baseline model for the current neo-classicals!

Greg Ransom writes:

Macroeconomists? David Colander and Alex Leijonhufvud.

hutch writes:

"A few weeks ago I would have said Brad Delong, but since then I have learned that he deletes tons of comments on his blog simply for disagreeing with him and I am finding it harder and harder to keep reading his posts."

i decided to start looking at some others' blogs so i added delong to my reader. i posted a comment saying that a comment he made was misleading and included a link to the source. deleted. so i posted again. we'll see if it stays.

Robert writes:

Krugman remains my favorite liberal economist because I deeply admire and envy the simplicity, clarity and depth of his writing so damn much. Yes, even his NYTimes columns.

At one point he was one of my intellectual heroes (keep in mind I am liberal and also fairly young) but I am currently ambivalent about him due to his recent behavior.

Not his nasty behavior and personal attacks, which do bother me but only a small amount. My view of him changed when I realized he is not interested in having honest, open discussions about economics, in particular the stimulus. He is only interested in affecting policy and influencing people. And that means not informing people about alternative POVs or presenting both sides of the argument.

Very few people on the right are fair and honest, so in that sense it is understandable. Still, it is almost, but not quite, dishonest. Probably this was obvious to everyone else here, but I only started reading him in 2004. *shrugs*

Less Antman writes:

My choice is Dean Baker: The Conservative Nanny State (http://www.conservativenannystate.org/) is an honest liberal's challenge to the hypocrisy of so many "pro-market" conservatives (and some libertarians) who make exceptions for their favorite privilege, such as immigration restrictions and intellectual property.

Andrew writes:

Everyone here is missing the boat entirely on Krugman's NYT column.

It's an opinion column in a newspaper. Newspapers don't provide a lot of space, and an opinion column isn't supposed to be an academic exercise. Simply not enough space, and a wonkish economic article would not be of enough interest to the average reader. The purpose is to share his opinions based on his economic research and knowledge.

If you like explanations, that's when you go to his blog. His column is a great place to get his opinion on an issue, but the blog is where a lot of the "meat" is.

As for Robert, he provided arguments against the stimulus in his blog. His dismay comes from those who seek to not bring up legitimate arguments against the stimulus (which he agrees there are), but rather bring up blatantly false claims.

HispanicPundit writes:

Alan Blinder...his book, Hard Heads, Soft Hearts was among the best.

Jay writes:

I have 3 favorite liberal economists
1. Paul Krugman
2. Joseph Stiglitz
3. Amartya Sen
Why are they my favorite? because they are Nobel winners and they can convincingly argue in favor of half-truths. Their intellectual works are quite opposite to their popular works.

Robert writes:


If Krugman had been truly interested in presenting both sides of the debate (he certainly has ample space in his blog) he would have, at some point, linked to Mankiw or Kling or Cowen or Kevin Murphy. All of them brought up reasonable points that at a minimum were worth mentioning if he had actually wanted to inform his readers.

I read his blog avidly and he did not.

The only times he linked to conservative viewpoints about the stimulus were when he wanted to rebut them.

And the most credence he gave for stimulus skepticism was a one sentence throwaway ~ "I'm sure there are valid reasons to be against a stimulus" -- he never actually mentioned or explained those reasons.

As I said, he is mainly interested in affecting policy.


Dean Baker is a solid choice. Though really he only comments on the press.

MHodak writes:

My first instinct was to nominate Tyler Cowen, but I see I was beat to the punch.

I agree on Dani Roderick. He strikes me as intellectually honest (if sometimes ivory tower). It's hard to be as polemical as Krugman has gotten and remain intellectually honest. Forget DeLong on that score. Anyone who so openly filters out dissenting views from his blog can be expected to do the same with his thinking.

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