political convention

political convention

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Paul Krugman calls it the Trahison Des Nerds: Betrayal by Economists

Paul Krugman ,New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor, came up with an amusing description of economists who tell the rich and powerful what they want to hear (NY Times 5/2/14).  He thinks such people are engaged in the Trahison des nerds. Even though they should know better, they write analyses that support the conservative fiction that slashing government spending will help the economy grow by boosting fiscal confidence. Trahison is the French word for betrayal or treachery.  French philosopher Julien Benda may have used the construction first when he titled his 1927 book, “La Trahison Des Clercs.” It described how German and French intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries became apologists for warmongering, nationalism and racism (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/). Also in 1927 René Magritte named one of his most famous paintings, “La Trahison des Images.” It shows what looks like a pipe, but a caption reads "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe). The point Magritte seems to be making is that images are constructs that betray our perceptions.  The painting isn’t a pipe. It’s an image painted on a flat surface with lines, arcs, and colors that the observer chooses to imagine as a pipe. As semanticist Alfred Korzybski noted, the map is not the territory.  Krugman’s choice of the word nerd to describe the treacherous economists he has in mind isn’t very hard to understand.  It’s the columnist having fun by choosing to infantilize his wayward colleagues.

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