Imagining the “reckoning”

In Obama’s speech yesterday he mentions the “day of reckoning.” He says it only once in the sentence: “Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.” after mentioning “we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; … Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.”

boschThe idea, which William Kristol finds “little ominous coming from a candidate of hope and change” is remarkably effective in capturing media attention, and maybe the public’s imagination. All news media used the sentence to summarize the speech – check google news search.

The question for me is why does it seize the imagination? In my mind it calls up an image, Bosch’s horrid paintings of confused nakedness and deformity. But what do western media see when it is conjured? Surely the staging of a trial, also the dividing of the world between saints and sinners? The news articles don’t help, some show a thoughtful Obama, others a solemn Obama, yet others show him playful. Maybe it calls no image, but primes you to a sense of justice, righteousness and comfort in the knowledge that someone above the fray will separate the angels from the sinners, and make the world intelligible again.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

tomtomorrowI don’t know how rarely it is that a Nobel Prize winner has a piece published in a magazine that is devoted to pop culture in the larger sense of the term – I guess Playboy may have published that kind of stuff, too, and I also understand that Krugman has already published a few anti-Bush articles in RS before he received the Nobel-Prize -, but here it is in the last issue of Rolling Stone: Paul Krugman’s advice to the new President.

I will not comment the article to a large extent and want to leave it for your consideration. However, I have just two or three remarks. It is quite striking that Krugman cites a lot of politicians but not one economist (not even Keynes) to strengthen his argument. He doesn’t even cites his sources when he provides figures (though he refers to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at the beginning of his article). It strikes me, but doesn’t hurt me, either … after all, Krugman is known as a sharp columnist by a large audience and a columnist is not supposed to cite any technical material or refer to the state of the art in the discipline he writes about. That is fine, except that Krugman is not presented by RS as the New York Times columnist but as the “Nobel-Prize-winning economist” who “examines the profound challenges facing [the] new president” (my emphasis). Should his new Prize give him a different kind of authority and then responsibility as an economic writer? I was having a look at a small paperback volume called Economics From The Heart: A Samuelson Sampler and it shows that Samuelson’s columns in Newsweek were far less polemical and often referred to some economists (his colleague Robert Solow, but also his former  teacher at Harvard Alvin Hansen, as well as the alternative Newsweek columnist, Milton Friedman). Whereas Samuelson’s columns aimed at showing the powers of economics as a prescriptive science, Krugman harshly criticizes Bush’s economics (and even goes further at the end of his article) and, like many other polemicists, invokes the Great Depression as the example everybody must look at to solve the current crisis (two pictures that are not reproduced in the electronic version of RS emphasize this parallel).

A few weeks ago, I saw Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC Morning Joe, calling Krugman a “very hateful guy” who is “weighed down by his Nobel Prize”. It seems that Krugman’s turning into a political pundit doesn’t please much his new colleagues.

PS: I think I should say something about the comic strip above. It is called “This Modern World” and is drawn by Tom Tomorrow, the pen name of editorial cartoonist Dan Perkins. This cartoon is regularly published in The Independant Weekly, a liberal tabloid distributed throughout the Durham-Raleigh area. This is not the first time I see Krugman being mentioned in it.