Paul Krugman vs. Metaphors (and Tom Friedman?)

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"Bad metaphors make for bad policy," declares Paul Krugman in a recent New York Times column. "America's economy isn't a stalled car, nor is it an invalid who will soon return to health if he gets a bit more rest. Our problems are longer-term than either metaphor implies."

Runaway analogies don't form the focus of Krugman's column, which takes a sobering look at the shortcomings of Obama's tax-cut deal with the Republicans. But Krugman has a point when he says that our figurative language has an effect on the way we try to solve problems. "The idea that the economic engine is going to catch or the patient rise from his sickbed any day now," warns Krugman, "encourages policy makers to settle for sloppy, short-term measures when the economy really needs well-designed, sustained support."

Mainly, Krugman's anti-metaphor broadside is notable for appearing in the Times, which in recent days has given us formulations like this one, from Maureen Dowd:

The caribou that waited too pliantly in the cross hairs is doomed to become stew for Palin and an allegory for politics. The elegant animal standing above the fray, dithering rather than charging at his foes or outmaneuvering them, is Obambi. Even with a rifle aimed at him, he's trying to be the most reasonable mammal in the scene, mammalian bipartisan, and rise above what he sees as empty distinctions between the species so that we can all unite at a higher level of being.

And this flight of invention, from veteran metaphor manufacturer Tom Friedman:

America today reminds me of a working couple where the husband has just lost his job, they have two kids in junior high school, a mortgage and they're maxed out on their credit cards. On top of it all, they recently agreed to take in their troubled cousin, Kabul, who just can't get his act together and keeps bouncing from relative to relative. Meanwhile, their Indian nanny, who traded room and board for baby-sitting, just got accepted to M.I.T. on a full scholarship and will be leaving them in a few months.

And--whoops!--this one from Paul Krugman, which is either about tabletop games or food.

The best thing about the Irish right now is that there are so few of them. By itself, Ireland can't do all that much damage to Europe's prospects. The same can be said of Greece and of Portugal, which is widely regarded as the next potential domino. But then there's Spain. The others are tapas; Spain is the main course.

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