All it took was a 70-word blog post and now Paul Krugman is a symbol of Western condescension toward the people of Estonia. In a new Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, Brendan Greeley takes a deep dive into the stimulus verses austerity debate in world economics, but we can't help but zero in on the resilient grudge the people of Estonia still hold for The New York Times columnist who pooh-poohed the Eastern European country's austerity program back in June:
Over the course of a week’s visit to three cities in Estonia, I met only two people who didn’t know what Krugman wrote about their recovery. This is not because Estonia is a country of blog-obsessed amateur economists.
The reasons for this grudge are two-fold. For one, Krugman's post was rebutted in a public Twitter rant by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who called it "smug, overbearing & patronizing," as we gleefully reported last month. Secondly, Krugman's post, which said Estonia's austerity-led economic recovery was far more mild than what austerity proponents have suggested, smacked of Western elitism to a people sensitive to such attacks. Ilves elaborates:
The outburst at Krugman came from that frustration and from Ilves’s youth in America. He says he’s better able to hear Western condescension, the habit of treating all those little countries the same. “This is why I relish being good in English,” he says ... Of his now infamous tweets Ilves says “with those 840 characters, I did more than with a lifetime of academic essays.”
The whole article itself is a fascinating examination of Estonia's economic journey over the last two decades, which you should read in full here. Does Krugman feel bad about his new-found fame in Estonia? Doesn't sound like it:
If the post came off as condescending, [Krugman] says, it was meant to condescend to the people he calls “austerians,” in particular Jens Weidmann, president of the German central bank ... Krugman says he gets “hysterical reactions” to things he writes all the time. He hadn’t expected one from a head of state.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.