Paul Krugman's Tiger Woods economics lesson

The Nobel laureate says he refuses to write about the golfer. But he already did once, and it needs an update

Published December 1, 2009 6:21PM (EST)

On Tuesday afternoon, at 4:31 p.m. Paul Krugman delivered a Policy Statement:

I am not now, nor have I ever been, interested in writing about Tiger Woods.

At 12:03 p.m, in the 21st comment on his post, Krugman got busted:

2006. Worth Publishers. Essentials of Economics. Page 8.

The Internet never forgets, Dr. Krugman.

Via Google Books, we find that Krugman did indeed use Tiger Woods as an illustration of the concept of "opportunity costs."

It's easy to see that the opportunity cost of going to college is especially high for people who could be earning a lot during what would otherwise have been their college years. That is why star athletes often skip college, or, like Tiger Woods, leave before graduating.

As numerous other commenters were quick to point out, by posting about his policy of not writing about Tiger Woods, Krugman was in fact writing about Tiger Woods, providing an excellent example of what James Poniewozik called "the contortions the respectable media go through to put a sufficiently meta spin on it, to justify covering the hot topic" of the moment.

Poniewozik dubbed his meta-meditation: "my blog post on The Tiger Woods Scandal: Not Actually a Blog Post About the Tiger Woods Scandal But Really a Meditation On What the Tiger Woods Scandal Says About the Media."

I am tempted to come up with my own convoluted version, but maybe that job is best left up to readers. In the meantime, I think it would be more fun to figure out how the revised edition of "Elements of Economics" will handle Tiger Woods' new cultural status. Surely his leaving college early is no longer the best example to employ to explain "opportunity costs"!

I think we need to add a couple of lines to the textbook.

...That is why star athletes often skip college, or, like Tiger Woods, leave before graduating. But calculating the true opportunity cost of a decision is rarely easy. For instance, when Tiger Woods canceled his participation in his own golf tournament, taking a presumably large financial hit from sponsors and other parties with whom he may have had attendance-related contractual relationships, he was undoubtedly making a calculation of the longterm cost/benefits of stonewalling the media in the short term versus coming clean immediately on whatever the heck happened Thanksgiving weekend at the Woods estate.

Which leads to one of the real essentials of economics: the dismal science is always relevant, no matter how tabloid the subject.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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