Krugman Introduces Foundation

Don’t you think if Isaac Asimov was still with us he would be busting his buttons to see his Foundation Trilogy introduced by Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times Op-Ed columnist?

Paul Krugman’s proud, too, being a fan of the series. He told an interviewer from the Boston Globe, “I was really inspired by the psychohistorians, who used statistics and social sciences to predict the future. I knew it was fiction, but what really struck me is the notion that the science of what people do could be important. I wanted to be one of those guys.”

Krugman’s introduction is available here, written with his characteristic blend of wisdom and hubris.

Now that I’m a social scientist myself, or at least as close to being one as we manage to get in these early days of human civilization, what do I think of Asimov’s belief that we can, indeed, conquer that final frontier—that we can develop a social science that gives its acolytes a unique ability to understand and perhaps shape human destiny? Well, on good days I do feel as if we’re making progress in that direction. And as an economist I’ve been having a fair number of such good days lately.

Krugman follows with a self-congratulatory example, then concludes:

So yes, it’s possible to have social science with the power to predict events and, maybe, to lead to a better future.

But he does not go so far as to claim he could have predicted The Mule.

And he does make this valuable comment about Asimov’s chosen stopping point:

We never get to see the promised Second Empire, which may be just as well, because it probably wouldn’t be very likeable. Clearly, it’s not going to be a democracy—it’s going to be a mathematicized version of Plato’s Republic, in which the Guardians derive their virtue from the axioms of psychohistory.

After all, Hari Seldon’s objective – hastening the Second Empire– is a shortcut out of the dark ages, not a utopian vision.

1 thought on “Krugman Introduces Foundation

  1. Or for $30 retail from Everyman Library you can get the trilogy in one volume with an introduction by Pulitzer prize winner Michael Dirda (isbn 0307593967).

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