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Krugman: Zombies are Orwellian

March 6, 2013

Paul Krugman today “George Orwell and the Zombies“:

zombie george orwell

about the use of vivid language in economic discourse. Partly I use striking and sarcastic metaphors to break through the complacency of officials. But I also, more broadly, have an Orwellian purpose — as in George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, which everyone should read.


metaphors that convey the sense far better than just laying out the argument.

concluding specifically about his use of “zombie”:

why not just refer to it as a “zombie idea”? It’s not just shorter, it conveys the sense of what is happening much better — and it places the idea in question in the context of other zombie ideas. Now, of course, some people get offended when you refer to their ideas as zombies. But if you’re worried about giving offense, you should be an official spokesperson, not an independent commentator.

This is very interesting in light of his debate with Joe Scarborough on Charlie Rose. Krugman mentioned that debate in yesterday’s blog where he explained his position on the social security life expectancy myth. Having now watched that episode of Charlie Rose, the life expectancy moment is actually very interesting. “JoScar” cites to the so-called zombie lie (ignoring the skew from infant mortality) and Krugman immediately gets agitated and huffs a little and rather then discuss like civilized people, Scarborough gets abrasive and calls Krugman out for what he likens to an Al Gore style in not letting others speak or in assuming anything they disagree with is inherently wrong. Scarborough goes on to not so subtly remind the audience that he is a lawyer (with a reference to his “torts professor”) and belittles Krugman by implying that he is not intellectually honest throwing “ad hominem attacks” at whatever he disagrees with. I’m honestly not sure who came off as the bigger ass.

The bottom line is that Krugman knows “zombie idea” is an “ad hominem attack” but he sees it as flair to break complacency with vivid metaphor. In contrast, I’m not sure if Scarborough realizes how his own arguments were loaded with similar personal attacks. Krugman has reasons he dislikes the economic paper they were talking about, but instead of facts it just dissolved into a he-said she-said and I don’t really trust either side when it gets like that. Both seemed to be talking to their base and not to each other – which is the very essence of Orwellian doublespeak to define us/them through cultural codes for those already in the know.

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