FIRST POSTED: 20/04/14

In the November 7th issue of the New York Review of Books (the post is slow arriving here) Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman reviews a book on climate change by his first mentor, William D. Nordhaus. In the course of this long, well-argued and generally positive review Krugman states “For if we look back at The Allocation of Energy Resources, one learns two crucial lessons. First, predictions are hard, especially about the distant future. Second, sometimes such predictions must be made nonetheless.”

Later on in another review article in the same issue, Are We Puppets in a Wired World?,  Sue Halpern catches the same Krugman making his own predictions, in 1998, about the internet. She quotes him as saying “The growth of the Internet will slow drastically as it becomes apparent that most people have nothing to say to each other”… “By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s … Ten years from now the phrase information society will sound silly.”

As Halpern says, Krugman was dead wrong, as wrong as it’s possible to be, I’d say. By 2005 there were almost a billion people on the Internet and business to business (B2B) e-commerce accounted for $1.5 trillion and online consumer purchases were estimated to be between $142 and $772 billion. Excuse me, BTW, but what kind of credence should one give to an estimate which has $630 billion between the highest and lowest points?

I have mostly enjoyed Krugman’s articles on the economy, and especially on austerity, and he is one of the few economists that I consider worth reading, and when I first started to read his articles regularly I felt like Yossarian and the soldier who saw everything twice. He knew he was in the presence of a master. His talented roommate was obviously a person to be studied and emulated.” When I read Halpern’s review yesterday I felt like Yossarian the following day. “During the night, his talented roommate died, and Yossarian decided that he had followed him far enough.” Nobody’s perfect, I guess, and even predictions about the relatively near future carry enormous risks to one’s reputation.


  1. I fully agree with you about Krugman’s articles – particularly the (unheeded but prescient) warnings about the dangers of austerity. Austerity for many, that is but not the folk who gotten us into another fine mess.

    His predictions re the internet are up there with the guy from Decca who, on auditioning the Beatles, said that guitar groups were on the way out.

    Having said that, he was right about the fact that the internet is proving that ‘most people have nothing to say to each other’, but that doesn’t stop them tweeting what they had for breakfast and how their bowel movements are.

    Toast and fine, thanks.

    Oh, and lovely to see the peerless Yossarian quoted.

  2. Yes, I agree about the vapidity (first time I’ve used that word ever, and probably I’ve done it badly) of much of the contents of the internet, and particularly tweets and instagrams, but give the public the (free) tools and they’ll use them to the best (worst) of their ability.

    1. You are, of course, right. However, it is easy, and fun in a shires Bufton Tufton-way, to succumb to the temptation of moaning about the many witless comments the internet houses instead of praising the few witful.

      Perhaps what Krugman teaches us is that we should stick to what we know.

      Haven’t a clue what Instagram is, something to do with photos? And, on the subject, if I take a photo of myself putting up a shelf, is that a shelfie? And one of my Shetland Sheepdog would presumably be a sheltie.

      Happy world book day, by the way. The combined forces of S Jordi, Shakespeare and Cervantes have left Bob Stanley’s ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, and books by Nan Shepherd, Rebecca Solnit and Nick Hunt in my kindle this morning. And you?

      1. Ben, again. Having thought long and hard about this in the small hours, I can only add the thought of a photo by and of the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker, presumably the über-selfie.

        And, since I’m feeling cheeky, to say what I didn’t yesterday, the parents of author Nick Hunt were evidently phonetically-challenged.

        And, on the same subject, if you were a Spanish man whose first surname was Tetas, wouldn’t you think twice about marrying someone whose first surname was Planas? Or did the extent of the linguistic disaster only occur to them on the birth of their first daughter?

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