From The Browser:
I wanted to start by saying how pleased I am you call yourself a liberal, because there are a lot of people – politicians – who are reluctant to be associated with the word.
As I see it, there has been a lot of effective propaganda. As a result, a lot of people adopted the term “progressive” as a somehow less charged way of saying the same thing, which I don’t think works. I consider myself both – liberal and progressive. It’s not too different from what would be called a social democrat in Europe – you believe in a decent-sized welfare state, you believe that we are our brothers’ keepers. Of course I’m not a politician so I can afford to label myself in a way that might lose some votes…
The first book you’ve chosen isn’t about economics at all; it’s a work of science-fiction, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. But was it part of what inspired you to become an economist?
Yes. This is a very unusual set of novels from Isaac Asimov, but a classic. It’s not about gadgets. Although it’s supposed to be about a galactic civilisation, the technology is virtually invisible and it’s not about space battles or anything like that. The story is about these people, psychohistorians, who are mathematical social scientists and have a theory about how society works. The theory tells them that the galactic empire is failing, and they then use that knowledge to save civilisation. It’s a great image. I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, “I want to be one of those guys!” Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get.