David R. Henderson  

A Good Krugman Post

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Every once in a while, Paul Krugman writes a post that I find moving and, dare I say, endearing. He had one today titled "The Scale of Things (Personal and Trivial)." It is personal. I don't think it's trivial. I think it's profound. After starting his post by talking about driving south from Secaucus, Krugman writes:

And as I headed south from Secaucus, I had one of those moments when the sheer scale of the world economy hit me.

The vista: in front of me the NJ Turnpike, 12 lanes wide at this point and already full of trucks early in the morning. On the right, Newark Airport, with many planes taking off and landing. On the left, the massive cranes of the Elizabeth container port marching off into the distance.

And Newark is only one of three New York airports; New York is, these days, only one of many huge global metropolitan centers. The scale of the whole thing is more or less literally inconceivable, in the sense that nobody can picture the reality of our getting and spending.


That's almost poetic, and I mean that in a good way. I like it when people occasionally sit and back and realize that we're talking about human beings here--many of them. He and I may disagree--and we often do--about what government policy should be with respect to these humans. But it's nice to see him seeing (and I'm not saying I ever doubted that he did) these humans as important.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Mike Hammock writes:

I tell my students that I get the same sensation every time I go into a Walmart. They think I'm crazy, but the number of humans that have to coordinate their activity over a huge geographical area just to stock a single Walmart is amazing.

Mike Hammock writes:

Kevin, that made my day. Thanks!

David R. Henderson writes:

@Kevin Rieder,
That was great! Thanks.
@Mike Hammock,
Yes on both.

Roger Koppl writes:

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Don Boudreaux writes:

Back in the mid-1980s, when Pete Boettke (a New Jersey native) was a grad student at GMU and I was a just-hired assistant professor there, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Don: I really like Virginia. The gentle rolling green hills are beautiful.

Pete: Yeah; they're okay. But they're nowhere near as inspiring and as moving as a drive along the New Jersey Turnpike up near New York City. There you see creativity and enterprise and commerce and hard work. You wouldn't enjoy seeing Virginia's Blue Ridge very much if it weren't for all that activity that's on display on the northern part of the Turnpike.
.....

Ever since then, while I still enjoy driving just west of DC and seeing the Blue Ridge off in the distance, I enjoy much more driving on the Turnpike between Newark and NYC and seeing all that inspiring evidence of entrepreneurship, industry, and global trade.

Shane L writes:

I grew up in the countryside, thinking a town of a few thousand was quite big. You can imagine what I thought about Tokyo, I'm definitely a country mouse!

Thinking about the enormous scale of human endeavour helps remind me that nobody is in charge. Governments try to steer markets but with billions of participants pulling in different directions, nobody is really strong enough to be in charge.

patrick k writes:

Now if Krugman would just realize that attempting to regulate that giant he saw with a small group of elites is insanity. His socialism blinds him to enlightenment. ;~)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Don Boudreaux,
Thanks. Not exactly the same but related is my story: I came to Washington to work in Reagan’s Labor Department in late December 1981. I often worked 6 days a week and long hours each day. In about March or so, I got out of D.C. for my first time to drive to an event in Connecticut. When I saw my first plant that produced something (I’ve forgotten what) and not just red tape, I actually started choking up.

Bill writes:

I live in a small town with limited shopping opportunities. Occasionally, I travel to a large city with giant shopping malls. As I wander through the corridors of such malls, I experience the same sensation Mike Hammock does at Walmart.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Inre: Krugman & Henderson.

He and I may disagree--and we often do--about what government policy should be with respect to these humans.

Perhaps you understate (or under-differentiate) what usually appears from your stated views from those of Krugman.

It can be seen in the uses of those magic words "government policy," by each of you.

I can be mistaken, but your meaning (intent)of those words seem to imply the use of the coercive powers of governments to implement policies determined by dominant coalitions (often of minorities).

The Krugman meaning (intent)of those words is derived from Rousseau's "general will," and the subsequent derivations through Comte and others; a necessary implication being that governments are its peoples writ large; rather than mechanisms for particular functions amongst them.

LD Bottorff writes:

When he's good, he's great and two of his points are great in his column. The economy is an enormous, complex, and wonderful thing. And stylized models are an important means of understanding the economy.

ThomasH writes:

@ Patrick K

I guess Krugmann would say that it is insanity to think that such an amazing creation of human ingenuity can be seriously harmed by a few tweaks to redistribute a bit of income toward the less fortunate and to try to adjust for externalaties even if we recognize that our models for understanding the workings of the machine is imperfect as are the motivations of the tweakers.

patrick k writes:

@Thomas

A few tweaks? History shows there are no successful "few tweaks". Socialism never stops at a few. Over several generations it's always collapse or the gulags, fascism, or brown shirts. In memory of Ben Wattenberg, his 3 part Rise and Fall of Socialism is on youtube.

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