The Breakfast Table

Krugman and Sullivan

Hi Kathleen

Good morning! I was up bright and early reading the papers today–in fact, extremely early, since I got back from Ireland yesterday and am still mainly on Irish time. I was also quite anxious to take a look at American papers–where I was you could only get Irish papers, and the funny thing is that those papers mainly focus on–would you believe it?–Irish news. Still, the headlines there and here were pretty much the same: For the time being the news is dominated by the war in Yugoslavia. For our chat the timing leaves something to be desired, since I don’t claim to know anything more about that conflict than the next person.

There is one somewhat interesting contrast between the way the war is covered there and here, however. In Ireland and in England–there were UK papers available on the flight back home–there is a significant amount of old-leftist-type commentary, denouncing U.S. imperialism, although even the most die-hard advocates of that view seem a bit uncomfortable about defending the right of small nations to kill off their ethnic minorities.

For what it is worth, my own sense is that the true immorality of U.S. policy here is the implicit rate of exchange we have established between American and Kosovar lives. We are, to our credit, willing to spend a lot of money in an effort to prevent genocide. But we are very unwilling to place even a few hundred American lives at risk–say, by sending aircraft in direct, low-level attacks on the Serbian forces in Kosovo–even if that might save tens of thousands of civilians. I don’t blame the administration, which is responding to a political reality; but it is worth pointing out that we are in effect saying that one American is worth hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Kosovars.

Otherwise, not much for me to react to. I actually get two papers delivered: the New York Times and the Financial Times. The reason for taking the latter is both for a bit more economic news and to get more of a global perspective; even the NYT shares the fundamental American insularity, the sense that the rest of the world basically matters only to the extent that it affects us directly. Anyway, the FT had a story about how even the International Monetary Fund is now pleading with the European Central Bank to cut interest rates. I am increasingly convinced that there is a developing drama there: In its drive to create a common currency, Europe has created a Frankenstein monster–an institution so anxious to prove its toughness and independence that it will not loosen up no matter how strong the case for relaxing.

Anyway, time to deal with 10 days’ backlog of mail and faxes.