Paul Krugman's Faith in Music Was Restored by Arcade Fire

Paul Krugman's views on economics may be entrenched for life but he's still prone to epiphany when it comes to indie rock music.

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Paul Krugman's views on economics may be entrenched for life but he's still prone to epiphany when it comes to indie rock music. Over the weekend, the Nobel prize-winning economist made a surprise appearance on WBEZ Chicago's Sound Opinions and, instead of souring the mood with gloomy economic forecasts on the euro, opened up about his return to musical discovery.

"It's a little embarrassing," Krugman said, noting that he stopped listening to new music in the 1970s. "I was a Baby Boomer so I listened to The Beatles and thought I was being very adventurous by moving up in time to Fleetwood Mac, and then pretty much stopped."

For decades, nothing! The New York Times columnist hunkered down to his 60s and 70s-era classics. But then, the unlikely combination of Montreal-based indie rockers Arcade Fire and the uncharacteristically-wise 2010 Grammy Awards, breathed new life into this Nobel prize-winning economist. "The Grammys came out. The surprise: this band called Acrade Fire had won best album. For some reason I thought to myself, 'I wonder what that's about?'" he said. "I started listening and I thought. 'Oh my God. There has been good music produced since 1980!'"

Krugman's unlikely appearance on the Chicago-based rock 'n roll talk show came about after Sound Opinions hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot noticed Krugman's increasing penchant for indie rock references on his blog and invited him on the show. The liberal economist appeared on the show's recurring segment Rock Doctors, in which guests, typically Chicago residents or distant no-name callers, ask for advice about new music. Krugman asks for something melodic, joyful and anti-corporate. Taking note of his preferences, Kot and DeRogatis had some recommendations for the Nobel Prize winner. First on the Krugman playlist was Baltimore duo Wye Oak's 2011 album Civilian:

There is also Welsh musician Gruff Rhys's album Hotel Shampoo:

Krugman panned the recommendations, however, saying he likes their live performances but has absolutely no interest in their studio recordings because they're overwrought. "They're over-produced. There's too much stuff going on taking away from the performance," he says. "Some might say 'we need to make this sound edgy' so they put in a lot of sound effects and sound distortions."

Well, well! If that music is no good for Krugman what's he looking for? Turns out, his anti-corporate philosophical underpinnings extend to music as well:

Krugman: "Any sense that it's not a personal statement that it's a marketing ploy is immediately. I run screaming out of the room."

DeRogatis: "I'm reading some anti-capitalism here between the lines."

Krugman: "Yeah, I've got nothing against capitalism in lots of things. I like my smartphone. But ... I think even the way capitalism is supposed to work you do rely ... on people having some kind of vision and you see if the marketplace likes that vision. But art is special. No one ever said that the creation of art was especially well-served by market forces."

Well put, Dr. Krugman! Maybe he should moonlight on the Arts Beat section from time to time? Listen to the entire show here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.