As President Obama fills out his cabinet for a second term, he has come under fire from Republicans for his decision to reportedly nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, to be the next secretary of defense. But that controversy is nothing compared to the outrage that would ensue if Obama tapped Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal stalwart, to head the Treasury. The idea has been floated by actor Danny Glover of all people, who has started a petition at SignOn.org urging Obama to pick Krugman. The petition, which as of Monday morning had more than 184,000 signatures, reads:
Krugman will protect Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts, promote policies to create jobs, and help defeat the austerity dogma in Washington and around the world. [SignOn.org]
At his perch on the op-ed page of The New York Times, Krugman has emerged as one of the most trenchant liberal critics of Obama's first term. He has also crusaded against Washington's conventional wisdom on economic policy, most notably calling for more stimulus spending amidst a discussion dominated by calls for budget cuts. And, to the utter frustration of his ideological foes, he has often been on the money, says Mark Weisbrot at The Guardian:
Krugman has been right about the major problems facing our economy, where many other economists and much of the business press have been wrong. A few examples: He wrote about the housing bubble before it collapsed and caused the Great Recession; he has forecast and explained that large budget deficits and trillions of dollars of "quantitative easing" (money creation) would not cause inflation or long-term interest rates to rise; and that the "confidence fairies" would not reward governments that pursued austerity in the face of recession.
Most importantly, Krugman is on the side of the majority of Americans. He has written extensively in favor of policies that favor job creation, explained the folly of budget cutting in the face of a weak economy, and opposes cuts to social security and Medicare benefits. [Guardian]
Krugman has served in government before. (Avert your eyes, Republicans: He was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan administration.) But he is also a know-it-all who wields his formidable intellect like a bludgeon, which would hardly grease the gears of change in the back-slapping atmosphere of Washington. For what it's worth, Krugman himself thinks it's a terrible idea, writing:
[O]fficials inside the administration can of course have even more influence — but only if they’re good at a very different kind of game, that of persuading the president and his inner circle in behind-closed-doors discussion. And everything I know about myself says that I’m not very good at that game. [New York Times]
However, Krugman is not one to downplay the importance of his ideas, nor his influence, via the Times, on economic policy. "Does anyone doubt that the White House pays attention to what I write?" he asks rhetorically.