We spoke to Paul Krugman (City University of New York, Nobel Prize 2008) about the dangers of economists getting too big for their boots.
After talking aboutand , we asked him for his thoughts on being an economist in the public sphere and his advice for communicating with the wider world.
Here are some of his tips:
Writing in simple English is a lot more work
Writing for non-economists is hard and it’s a lot more work. Taking jargon and translating it into simple everyday English that anyone can understand takes more effort than a lot of economists are willing to put in. This is because they often feel they can argue from a point of authority, thinking that “I am a highly qualified and famous economist, therefore listen to me”, but…
No one cares about your credentials!
“You have to make every argument assuming that people don’t know who you are or your professional credentials”. Having a notable prize or being part of a prestigious institution can only get you so far, and for a lot of people it won’t get you anywhere. Never assume that people will take your word over your opponent’s on the grounds that you’re an economist, even if they’re talking “complete nonsense”.
Keep it vivid, keep it simple
If people won’t listen to your argument on the grounds of who you are, they might still listen based on its merits. Writing in simple English can take a lot more effort than writing in jargon, but without being clear and energetic you’ll hardly reach anyone.
You can’t win them all – but that’s no reason not to try
It’s clear from the events of 2016 that economists can lose even if they know exactly what they’re talking about. Your argument might not reach everyone, and might not be the game-changing call to action that brings everyone together, but that’s no reason not to “make a good try at it and write and talk in a way that a much larger set of people can understand”.
Paul Krugman was speaking at the CEPR’s “Ten Years after the Crisis” conference – watch more videos from him and other speakers.