You had a nice week. Not just the Nobel, but Hank Paulson agreed to do what you’ve been telling him to do for weeks, putting the bailout money directly into banks.
Yeah, although like everybody I’m scared to death about what’s happening out there. And so far the plan isn’t getting much traction.
Did Paulson or Ben Bernanke call to congratulate you on the prize?
No. I would imagine that Ben has his hands full, to be honest.
You two were colleagues at Princeton.
We got along fine. But I would imagine having any visible contact with me would not be a great move for him, in terms of internal politics.
What’s your prediction for the New York City economy?
It’s going to get a lot worse. It’s now a city where nearly everything, directly or indirectly, is fed by the financial industry. We’re going to have a big downsizing of that industry. And they’re paid so much that their spending ends up supporting most of the rest of the city economy.
Maureen Dowd wrote that she was worried you’ll come swaggering into the office with the prize around your neck.
Given that it’s Maureen, that was a terrific compliment.
You’re not planning to wear it around your neck?
My style, whatever defects it has, I don’t think it includes swaggering.
Well, your quote in the Times when the prize was announced—“I thought this day might come”—was a little swaggering. And you often point out in columns your previous arguments that turned out to be right …
I may have done that occasionally. Maybe I do it more than I realize. But realistically, in terms of winning the prize, it’s academics. You know that you might be in the running. I doubt that there’s been a single Nobel in economics that’s gone to somebody that considered themselves absolutely incapable of getting one.
Do you think part of the reason you got it now had to with your role as an anti-Bush partisan?
I doubt it. If you look at the ideological mix of recipients, it’s been all over the place. I think they’re just moving down the years, and they got to roughly my vintage.
What happens to you as a columnist when Bush is no longer president?
If it’s McCain, then I suppose I’ll probably have much more of the same sort of thing to write. If it’s Obama, then it becomes much more the column I thought I was going to be writing when I was originally hired.
A column which has some politics, and takes sides, but is also a lot of, let’s try to understand the economics here, and what it says about where we should be going. For the last eight years, when I’d write something about events in some other part of the world, I’d get a barrage of e-mails from readers saying, Go back to criticizing the Bush administration.
Where do you keep your money these days?
A lot in cash. We own some munis, because I’m betting that there will be a rescue of state and local governments. We have some very long-term property investments. I think the only stocks that we own right now are in the university retirement thing.
What are you going to do with your $1.4 million?
Haven’t the faintest idea.
Would you be Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary if he asked?
I would urge him very much to reconsider. I’m just temperamentally unsuited.
So you would blink.
Yes. I don’t want the job. I don’t want any kind of administration job. I think that it’s better for me, the country, and general mental health to have me on the outside.