Business, Community & Government

Writing Economics

Paul Krugman

Lesson time 09:53 min

Using his column “Myths of Austerity,” Paul demonstrates how he uses language, current events, and more to break down a complex topic while keeping the reader informed and engaged.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Rule #1: Keep Them Reading • Rhetorical Strategy Line by Line: “Myths Of Austerity” • Style Is Substance


What you learn when you start to do a lot of public writing is that you have to respect your readers, but also accept that they're coming at this cold. They haven't been reading previous stuff. They certainly don't know any of the jargon. They actually don't want to learn any of the jargon. So rather than explain the jargon, your best bet is to just find a way of saying stuff without it. But if you're writing for four million people who read "The New York Times," they are not obliged to go past the first four words of your column. You better have a reason to keep them engaged. You always have to ask when you're writing something for the public, what am I trying to accomplish? Actually, who am I talking to? What do I want to accomplish? And my case, usually I'm talking to educated readers-- this is "The Times"-- people who are interested in the world, are actually pretty well-informed about events, but not at all informed about economics. I'm sometimes asked, do you write for members of Congress? The answer is, no, I actually write for their staffs. The member of Congress probably doesn't understand a blessed thing, but his or her staff people might. So they're actually kind of similar to my readers. I have a line that says that, if a column doesn't greatly annoy a large number of people, then you've wasted the space, right? If you're just doing a rah-rah column-- either side, by the way. I mean I'm kind of a guy to the center left, and my thrust is going to be against a lot of-- but if you're just doing something that is saying, Trump is bad, well, lots of people are saying that. How much are you actually adding? So you have to be making some point that people don't get, or you don't think people are getting. And if they're not getting it, it's probably because this was either hard for them to understand or something that cuts against their prejudices. And that's going to be a heavy lift to get it across. [MUSIC PLAYING] This is, I don't know, one of my favorite columns of the past 10 years. And it came about, so the background here is, we had this terrible financial crisis in 2008. But we stepped back from the brink of total collapse, 2009, but we were still deep in the hole, high unemployment. And one of the things that had happened was that everybody was running big budget deficits, which was actually a good thing. We needed to run those budget deficits as part of the way to support the economy. But inevitably, some people started to get worried about debt. And in Europe in particular, even more than here, there was a push demanding austerity policies. And there was also some academic research suggesting that maybe austerity policies are not a mistake when you have high unemployment, claiming to provide evidence that if you slash spending, that it would actually be good for the economy, because it would increase confidence. So I fought back against this, and I wrote a column in July 2010 called "Myths of Austerity."...

About the Instructor

For Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, economics is not a set of answers—it’s a way of understanding the world. In his economics MasterClass, Paul teaches you the principles that shape political and social issues, including access to health care, the tax debate, globalization, and political polarization. Heighten your ability to read between the lines and decipher the underlying economics at play.

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Paul Krugman

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman teaches you the economic theories that drive history, policy, and help explain the world around you.

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