Nobel Prize-winning economist Krugman to speak at UI today

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | MARCH 27, 2009 7:35 AM

For those looking for a sugar-coated view of America’s current economic plight, Paul Krugman’s lecture most likely won’t be a fit.

“We’re in depression economics, and it could become very, very severe,” said the New York Times columnist, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize for economics.

Despite the columnist’s sometimes grim outlook, UI law Professor N. William Hines said he is looking forward to Krugman’s lecture — “Improving the U.S. Economy in the Short and Long Term” — at 4 p.m. today. The event is a part of the UI College of Law’s annual Levitt Lecture series, which was created in 1995 to bring distinguished law and government figures to the campus to present timely discussions.

“It will be interesting to see what a brilliant economist thinks about [the current economic situation] and how we get out of it,” Hines said.

Hines, the administrator of the lecture series, helped bring who he called “a prominent voice on how to solve the current economic crisis” to the UI to initiate a buzz on campus.

“I hope he will stimulate the community to have better informed and more frequent discussions on [the economy],” he said. “I hope he will be a stimulus, a catalyst.”

And Krugman is known to cause a stir. Amid some criticism that the current $787 billion federal stimulus package was excessive, he argued that the amount is nowhere near enough to generate a true economic recovery. He said he would have set the government’s tab at a minimum of $1.2 trillion.

However, UI economics Professor Ray Riezman said he disagrees with Krugman. Rather than increased government spending, he said, a reallocation of resources is needed to counter the disproportionate growth that occurred in the financial sector.

But Krugman thinks a fatter stimulus package could help the United States avoid a replay of Japan’s financial bubble bust that occurred roughly 20 years ago. The Asian country provided a “full dress rehearsal” for the U.S. economic situation, he said.

Unfortunately, he said, current U.S. actions are too similar to those taken two decades ago in Japan.

“We owe the Japanese an apology,” Krugman said. “We are exactly as slow.”

His outlook is not completely dismal. He is confident in the analytical abilities of those leading recovery action, he said — the shortfall comes with insufficient political action.

While the distinguished professor may spark talking points at today’s event, he said he won’t provide UI students with the secret formula for weathering the downturn.

“It’s hard to come up with advice,” Krugman said. “I don’t have any brilliant ideas.”

The lecture is free and open to the public; it will take place in Macbride Auditorium.

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