Krugman vs. inequality: Nice work if you can get it

  • Article by: VIRGINIA POSTREL , Bloomberg View
  • Updated: April 17, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Scourge of the plutocrats Paul Krugman lends his name (for a nice price) to 'inequality initiative.'

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American economy Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman, right, is awarded an Honoris Causa degree by Lisbon University, Lisbon Technical University and Lisbon Nova University Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 in Lisbon. (AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)

Photo: Francisco Seco, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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In the winner-take-all competition for money, status and, scarcest of all, attention, economist-turned-New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is a big winner.

Now he’s reaping one of the rewards of sitting atop that slippery pole. Like Michael Jordan, Charlize Theron and Kim Kardashian, he’s gotten a well-paid gig as a brand ambassador.

That’s not the official title, of course. He’s been hired as a “distinguished professor” at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, attached to its Luxembourg Income Study Center. He’ll be paid a nine-month salary of $225,000, or what a horrified Gawker writer describes as $25,000 a month or “more than quadruple New York City’s median household income.”

He won’t have to teach the first year and will only have a single seminar after that. “You will not be expected to teach or supervise students,” says an offer letter obtained by Gawker through a freedom-of-information request. “Instead you will be asked to contribute to our build-up of LIS and the inequality initiative and to play a modest role in our public events.”

To Krugman haters, that sounds like a publicly funded do-nothing job. Even to sympathizers, it seems awfully ironic coming from a center studying inequality. But it’s just the talent market at work.

Krugman has something valuable to offer, and it isn’t his big brain. CUNY isn’t paying for his Nobel-winning research on trade theory any more than J’Adore hired Theron because of her Oscar-winning turn as a serial killer in “Monster.” They’re buying his image and the attention he brings.

In short, they’re hoping Krugman will do for them what Scarlett Johansson did for SodaStream: get their obscure brand into the public consciousness (preferably without the messy boycott stuff).

And so far it’s working.

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