Book Review  

Arguing with Zombies: Book Review

Arguing with Zombies: Book Review

The trouble with trolls and zombies is that engaging with them online does nobody any favours.

You can argue a point from any angle: economic, medical, factual but in the end you are still debating with a zombie. 

However, as economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes in his book, Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics and the Fight for a Better Future, it is absolutely vital to keep pressing the facts home, no matter how tiresome it seems.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist says economists – and, by extension journalists and anyone interested in factual and honest debate – have a duty to fight that fight.

“I don’t know if that fight can ever be fully won, though it can be lost”, he says.

“But it is definitely a cause worth fighting for.”

So who is a zombie? According to Mr Krugman, whose book largely focuses on America post-2001, with its sharp political divides, these are ideas entrenched in nothing more than traditional, political ideology.

As he describes it, ideas such as ‘there’s no climate change’, ‘social security is a problem’ and ‘universal healthcare is unaffordable’ are all zombie ideas. 

“Monetary support from right-wing billionaires is a powerful force propping up zombie ideas – ideas that should have been killed by contrary evidence but instead keep shambling along, eating people’s brains.”

For Mr Krugman, this lack of concern for facts is damaging, not just because it allows zombie ideas to persist in government, but also because it ends up with financial policies being passed that directly make people’s lives worse off. 

Throughout the book, Mr Krugman draws on his columns for the NYT, written over the course of the past 20 years, to illustrate how economists warned against the potential damage of zombie ideas – and to show the success (or failure) of their arguments.

While this makes for interesting reading, enabling each chapter to be read in bite-sized chunks, the chronological make-up of the book can be baffling.

The reader jumps from President Bush’s social security plans straight into Obamacare, then back into the financial crisis. 

This book is not meant to be read chronologically as a series of articles curated in a sequential fashion, but rather as discrete chapters on different subjects, each containing a selection of Mr Krugman’s old columns from the NYT, with a mini-essay bringing them together.

So, in terms of easy-to-read economic summaries of some of the biggest issues facing Western (particularly American) financial policy making, this book is a treasure-trove. 

Simoney Kyriakou is editor of Financial Adviser

Arguing with Zombies by Paul Krugman

Published by WW Norton & Company