Estonian president to Paul Krugman: Shove it! Update: The final battle?


Estonia’s high-tech president is fluent in the language of the tweet.

I spent several hours today with the Estonian mastermind behind Histordamus, an interactive website that is being adopted in half of the small Baltic nation’s schools.  Now that I have a number of Estonians among my acquaintance, I’ve learned about Estonia’s enviable technological savvy.  Estonian engineers invented Skype.  Who knew?  The small, mercifully debt-free nation has universal WiFi.  Citizens vote online.  And my Estonian visitor today told me that he did his taxes online in six minutes.

Silence is golden.

When I got back to my computer, however, I learned that Estonia had just declared war in the Twittersphere.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves responded to a volley from the New York Times with  … a handful of tweets.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman started it.  He scoffed today in a short blogpost:  “Since Estonia has suddenly become the poster child for austerity defenders — they’re on the euro and they’re booming! — I thought it might be useful to have a picture of what we’re talking about. Here’s real GDP, from Eurostat” – then there’s a lackluster graph.  Then he asks: “this is what passes for economic triumph?”

President Ilves (@IlvesToomas) is no stranger to America: he grew up in New Jersey and has a 1976 bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and a 1978 master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The Guardian has a profile of him here, hailing him as the hero of the Baltic states and saluting Ilves for the nation’s “robust economy.”  Clearly Krugman doesn’t agree.

In addition to Estonian and English, Ilves is fluent in German and Spanish.  But clearly he knows the language of the tweet as well.  Here are five of today’s tweets to Krugman, in chronological order:

Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing: after all, they’re just wogs:

Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a “wasteland”. Must be a Princeton vs Columbia thing 

But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb & silly East Europeans. Unenlightened. Someday we too will understand. Nostra culpa.

Let’s sh*t on East Europeans: their English is bad, won’t respond & actually do what they’ve agreed to & reelect govts that are responsible.

Chill. Just because my country’s policy runs against the Received Wisdom & I object doesn’t mean y’all gotta follow me. [The article praises Estonia’s economy.]

Sorry, not conserv. or leftist. Just can’t fathom why following agreed upon EU fiscal rules justifies smug & snide gloating re: my country.

No replies from Krugman. Perhaps it’s best.  A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Update on 6/7:  The war continues… A few more tweets followed in a similar vein, plus some back-and-forths with what appears to be the public at large.

But many wondered: Was it really the president of Estonia tweeting his peeves this way?  Terms like “y’all,” “chill,” and “wog” seemed to leave some room for doubt.  (They forgot that he grew up in New Jersey.)  The New York Observer‘s column “The Politicker” left no stone unturned in ferreting out the truth: it reached out to the Estonian government and received confirmation and a statement from the man himself:   “Yes I send my own tweets,” Mr. Ilves said. “It was a sincere and immediate defense of the major and often difficult efforts of Estonia to deal with the economic crisis and to stick to the rules adopted in the European Union.”

A few hours later, Krugman finally responded loftily in his own column, “Ballistic in the Baltics”: “I’m hearing from various sources that my rather mild-mannered post on Estonia has generated a vitriolic response from the nation’s president. I’m not going to try to track the thing down.”  Mild-mannered?  I think not.  And somehow I doubt Krugman was so far in the clouds that he couldn’t  click on the links to Twitter to find out what a foreign president was saying.  Fortunately, Krugman more wisely turns to a graph for the economics of FDR’s administration, and let the matter rest.

Would I have gone Ilves’s route in riposte?  Probably not.  But I notice he’s gained about 2,300 Twitter followers in the last 24 hours.

Twitter seems to be cheering for Ilves.  The New York Times comments strongly favor Krugman.  Both sides are saying … exactly what you would expect them to say.

Food fight over.


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11 Responses to “Estonian president to Paul Krugman: Shove it! Update: The final battle?”

  1. David Sucher Says:

    “Jeering” is a vast overstatement.
    In fact jeering is hardly close.
    I’d have to see comparative graphs from other countries but Estonia has not regained it’s 2008 GDP.

    Have you read Krugman’s post?
    My sense is that a nation — a very beautiful one, I am told — with less than the population of metro Seattle may not be the best example about the benefits of austerity when discussing much larger nations.

    Then again, I am no economist.

  2. From Estonia With Love Says:

    Speaking as a native Estonian, I do admit this story makes me chuckle. Our president is usually very reserved, almost to the point of awkwardness, so seeing his human side is as funny as it is understandable.

    Things here Estonia have been rough but are steadily improving. I don’t know whether we can thank austerity for that or our export partners but the fact is, Estonia is beginning to pull itself out from an economic hole without significant stimulus.

    However I don’t think American conservatives are right in setting us an example, mainly because Estonia has such things as nationalized medical care, free higher education and compulsory military service. Yes, our national debt is non-existent but if we look into the private sphere, things look a bit different.

    But overall, I am comfortable with our president giving Krugman the smackdown because I think that little weasel deserves it – if not for past sins then most certainly as a proactive measure.

  3. Ambrosius Says:

    What comparison is the bubble year of 2008 anyway?

  4. peeter suur Says:

    My english is bad, but i want to say something. Estonia is very small, we have only 1,2 million people. Most of them live in capital city. Unfortunately. Because country life is dead. Schools are closed. Doctors are going to Finland. Rescuers fired. Teachers underpaid. Familys are broken, dads are working in Finland, Norway, Sweden.
    We have president T H Ilves since 2006.
    We have very very many political scandals. Our president makes only visits to other countries, but he dont say nothing against political criminals, moneywash, payoffs.
    Because he is part of that.
    We see only shiny pics about state visits. THAT is our preisidents function, because he live from taxprayes money. Political elite is corrupied and overpaid and if someone goming to USA or EU, then everything is brilliant- good food, fun and entertainment , but quests does not see real life.
    Our goverment skipjack of bussinesmanns.
    In our country is sold for now everything: fields and woods, old and new companys, even our mineral recources, even our childrens future.
    People are selling homes, for buying food, paying high energie taxes, hidden taxes…
    65 000 children live in hunger in officially, but this number is much higher. Parents dont have work anymore. Almost everyone is owing , especially to banks.
    With euro we are not owners in this country. We are servants. We dont produce anymore, we only intermediate. Thanks to reform party , Mr Ansip, Ilves, Ligi …etc.
    Please spread my message:

  5. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I’m not an economist, either, David. That’s why I limit myself to the war on words.

    Of course I read Krugman’s short post. And as Ilves tweets make clear, he wasn’t trying to hold his tiny nation up as a model for others.

    I think if Krugman’s remarks were directed towards me, I would consider them jeering. But just for you, I’ve altered to the slightly softer “scoffed.”

  6. Ambrosius Says:

    Peeter Suur/Peter the Great: cut a bit on your “we” language, allright? It is not only your English that’s bad.

  7. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Aw, give him a break, Ambrosius. He’s doing tons better than I’d do in Estonian.

  8. Bloix Says:

    “I think if Krugman’s remarks were directed towards me, I would consider them jeering.”

    Krugman’s remarks weren’t directed at Estonia. They were directed at the UK and the EU.

    For the last couple of weeks, Krugman has been touring Europe to talk about the argument he makes in his new book, End this Depression Now! Wherever he goes, he points out that austerity has been a flop: in Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and the UK, austerity has resulted in declines in GDP and in increased unemployment.

    And do you know what his opponents respond? They say, “Look at Estonia!” Really, that’s what they say – we should follow the lead of a small, very atypical state with an economy that is nothing at all like ours. It’s the best they’ve got.

    So, Krugman says, I’ll look at Estonia. And I see “a significant but incomplete recovery.” GDP lower than it was five years ago and 11.5% unemployment. This is your triumph of austerity? Across Europe, this is the best you can say? It’s not much of an argument for austerity, is it?

    And the president of Estonia, who thinks he’s the target, not the example, loses his temper.

  9. ishan Says:

    i read Krugman’s short post. And as Ilves tweets make clear, he wasn’t trying to hold his tiny nation up as a model for others.

  10. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks for the context, Bloix.

    I do think Krugman would have been better off graciously apologizing for any offense he may have caused with his remarks, and then moving on to talk about FDR. As it is, he makes the presidents of small nations sound like tiny, tiny ants he is viewing from a cloud.

  11. Ambrosius Says:

    bloix, really, what can anyone from a country with 100% debt/GDP advocate? Surely not austerity. Just keep quiet about the fact that it is in fact nothing but a medieval debt prison where you stay until your kids have paid if you happen to pass away. Estonia is completely irrelevant, except for the desire to squash the nuisance ant