For American liberals, Paul Krugman's twice-a-week New York Times column has become a life raft in a sea of public-policy discourse that has turned distinctly choppy. An early critic from the left of President Barack Obama's economic policy -- in 2009 he argued loudly that the $787 billion stimulus package proposed by the White House was too small -- the Nobel Prize-winning economist-cum-pundit's outrage has only grown in 2011. To Krugman and his large audience, the Obama administration seems to have all but handed the keys of the U.S. Treasury over to Tea Party budget-cutters. In a September Times column, Krugman likened austerity advocates to pre-modern doctors who bled patients in a misguided effort to cure them. "What passes for being reasonable and wise and serious inside the Beltway is in fact deeply foolish," Krugman told TV talk-show host Charlie Rose in July, as Congress's debt-ceiling debate approached its climax. If the world plunges back into recession, as seems increasingly likely, no one can say Krugman didn't warn us.
With the global financial contagion still spreading, the insights of this Nobel Prize–winning economist and prominent critic of globalization have been more in demand than ever. His 2010 book, Freefall, was a well-deserved "I-told-you-so," and he has continued to point fingers at growing inequality and the global economic establishment's slavish devotion to free market ideology for helping cause the crash. Although the past year has been rough for the world's economy, it has been pretty good for Joseph Stiglitz, who has found his once-heretical views more mainstream than ever. In a widely discussed Vanity Fair article, Stiglitz took aim at America's yawning wealth gap and the culture of over-the-top executive compensation that created it. "An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year -- an economy like America's -- is not likely to do well over the long haul," he wrote.
Stiglitz isn't strictly a finger-pointer. He has also chaired a U.N.-organized commission on reform of the global financial system. And burnishing his anti-establishment credibility, he spoke at this year's Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. Stiglitz's skepticism has weathered the storm far better than the free market exuberance of many of his fellow economics superstars. Perhaps next time we'll listen.