Robin Wells on Universal Coverage, Europe Unwinding and Husband Paul Krugman
In the last installment of our extended profile of Paul Krugman, we turn to his wife Robin Wells. An economist who also co-authors textbooks with him, Wells talked with us at their home on a particularly rainy day — which had us moving around during the interview — about what the pair disagrees on and her analysis of politics and the financial crisis. (Transcript below)
For those who would like to catch up on our series (or watch it again), here’s the full list:
Krugman on European austerity, with a response from Jacob Kirekegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: Paul Krugman on Germany’s ‘Whips and Scourges’
Krugman focused on Spain and Germany with critique from Terence Burnham: Paul Krugman on Europe ‘Doing the Unthinkable’
Krugman on his former boss, Ben Bernanke: Paul Krugman on Ben Bernanke’s ‘Green Shoots’
Krugman’s take on what happened in the great crash of ’08, and if we are in danger of forgetting the lessons learned and getting ourselves into yet another financial disaster: Paul Krugman on the ‘Cartoon Physics’ of the 2008 Crash
TRANSCRIPT: ‘Robin Wells on Universal Coverage, Europe Unwinding and Husband Paul Krugman’
Narrator: Robin Wells is Paul Krugman’s wife and textbook co-author. An economist who’s also a yoga instructor, she went to the University of Chicago, got her PhD at Berkley in international finance and debt crises, did a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT, where Krugman was teaching in the early 1990s. A profile of the Krugmans in The New Yorker magazine said she’s often the political oomph behind her husband’s economics. Is that true?
Robin Wells: I think that’s true, although I think it’s less true than it used to be. I think that in the end I probably do have the more political mind. I think maybe I’ve given him material to work on for a while! He can run with that for a while before I have to fill him back up! I think it’s really hard for Democrats to understand what they’re facing, and because I grew up in the South, because of my background, I feel like I get it in a way that’s not easy for people who haven’t lived there to “get it”.
Paul Solman: And what is the background?
RW: I grew up in the South. My family is mixed. It’s part African-American, part American-Indian, part Scottish, part English, part Irish, you know. So, I understand sort of the radical nature and the lack of rationality that you often perceive.
Sometimes countries have to go through periods of crises and then rediscover why it’s important to be bipartisan and compromise.
Paul Solman: Is there anything you and he disagree with about the political economy?
RW: Well, when the healthcare debate came along I was more for the idea of holding out for universal coverage than he was. But I think in the end he was right because I think politically having the healthcare reform bill that we did have is flawed and is, you know, hodge-podge as it is. It sets a precedent.
PS: The precedent of universal coverage.
RW: Of coverage. So I think he was right there. I think that I’ve been more right about the sort of, the inexorable kind of unwinding of Europe. I think he was more hopeful, and I think I was more pessimistic, and I think I probably have been borne out on that. I think what it is, is that we kind of confirmed each other’s gut instincts. I think one of the things that I’ve done is help confirm his gut instinct and hopefully haven’t, you know, confirmed bad things.
PS: And what’s your analysis of why things are from your point of view, as dire as they are?
RW: Sometimes countries have to go through periods of crises and then rediscover why it’s important to be bipartisan and compromise and if you haven’t had a deep crisis for a while, you feel like you have the luxury of going on your own way. We know that the Republicans suffered, I think, in terms of the polls of people believing in the case where we nearly had the government shutdown. Polls showed that people believed that the Republicans were doing this purposely to harm the economy, to harm Obama’s chance of re-election. So, I think we have to at this point hope that voters see what’s going on.
PS: And what’s your economic analysis of what’s been going on that you don’t like?
RW: Some believe that it’s a raw exercise of the belief of power. That the rich believe that they’re different and that it is their right to pay a much lower tax rate. The response that you see from people on Wall Street, their dismissal and their almost contempt for the concerns about their culpability in the financial crisis, about the income inequality, shows that they are completely out of touch. And I think not only politicians but I think some economists, particular economists in business schools, have something to answer for that because they preached a type of economics in which really what what the market delivered to you, no matter how rigged the market was, was your just desserts.
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