A leading thinker chooses five books about his or her field of interest. This month Paul Krugman chooses five books that provide inspiration for a liberal economist. Read the full interview here
Foundation Isaac Asimov
This is a very unusual set of novels from Isaac Asimov, but a classic. It’s not about gadgets. Although it’s supposed to be about a galactic civilisation, the technology is virtually invisible. It’s not about space battles or anything like that. The story is about psycho-historians, who are mathematical social scientists and have a theory about how society works. The theory tells them that the galactic empire is failing, and they then use that knowledge to save civilisation. It’s a great image. I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, “I want to be one of those guys!” Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get.
Obviously I try to do straight economics and I do it as well as I can. But this is for a purpose. That purpose is not to find better ways of making money—although I have no problem with people doing that. The purpose is actually to make a better world. I do feel that I am trying to do something that goes beyond just the analysis.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding David Hume
I read this at that stage—college sophomore or thereabouts—when you’re searching around looking for belief systems. I think it’s a point when you’re quite vulnerable, because you are looking for someone who is going to offer you all the answers. Some people turn to religious orthodoxy, other people turn to Ayn Rand. One of my favourite lines—I haven’t been able to find out who came up with it—is, “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs.”
Then I read Hume’s Enquiry, this wonderful, humane book saying that nobody has all the answers. What we know is what we have evidence for. We do the best…