I have often quoted a line from Freud that I have never been able actually to find in his writings, leading me to wonder whether I made it up. It goes something like this [assuming he really wrote it]: "If there is one subject that the patient will not permit to be discussed in an analysis, sooner or later the entire analysis comes to be about that one subject." Usually I quote this line when I am talking about progressive, intelligent, thoughtful Jewish writers who have an ineradicable blind spot about Israel. But Freud's observation [I persist in my belief that he actually said it] has other applications as well. This thought occurred to me as I was reading Paul Krugman's blog earlier today.
Krugman is everything that one could want in a progressive liberal. He is wicked smart, witty, very broadly read and educated, on the progressive side of every social issue, seriously concerned about economic inequality, a bulldog when it comes to harrying his less enlightened colleagues in the Economics profession, and, I would imagine, fun to spend some time with.
There is really only one subject that he cannot ever bring himself to talk about, despite the fact that you would think it was staring him in the face every moment of his professional life: CAPITALISM.
Now if you have read Krugman at all, you might suppose that I am totally, comically wrong. I mean, he talks about capitalism every day of his life, right? But not really, if you think about it for a moment. He talks about growth rates, interest rates, unemployment rates, Phillips Curves, quantity easing, and inventory levels. He talks about the evils of austerity hawks, the inability of conservative economists to admit that they have been wrong for five years, about the failure of inflation to develop, and endlessly many other things. But he never actually talks about capitalism. He treats capitalism in roughly the way fish treat water or birds treat air -- as the medium in which they swim or fly, omnipresent, inevitable, necessary.
Krugman is a smart man, and I would bet that he has read Das Kapital [although he probably has not read Marx's doctoral dissertation, which I actually have.] So if I ever met him and had a chance to engage him in a serious discussion, I am willing to bet that he would be completely unfazed and unimpressed were I to bring up Marx's claim that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class. I am not sure what he would say. [I really hope he would not start talking about workers earning their marginal product -- he is smarter than that.] But he would have something smooth and even thought out to counter. Nevertheless, I am dead certain that he feels no need whatsoever to work up a sophisticated knowledgeable defense of capitalism, any more than a sentient fish would feel the need to offer a rationale for water.
Maybe Krugman wouldn't be so much fun to spend time with.