SYNOPSIS: Krugman explains how he writes his biweekly column

I know that some people out there think that I am part of a Democratic party axis of evil - that I, along with Tom Daschle and Howell Raines, sit down to plot strategy against the Bush administration - not to mention the blacklisting of Andrew Sullivan, and the downfall of Christian civilization.

Wanna know how it really works? Here's how a column - my Tuesday May 14 piece about corporate tax evasion - actually came into being.

It was more or less obvious to me by Friday that the Stanley Works story was a good jumping-off point. But I wasn't sure I understood how the tax loophole worked. So I started work a day earlier than usual, sending an email to David Cay Johnston at the Times on Sunday. He got back to me, and we had a phone conversation that didn't make me a real expert on the subject, but was enough to let me play one on the op-ed page.

On Monday I downloaded a bunch of newspaper articles on the subject, plus reports from the Cato Institute (not helpful), Citizens for Tax Justice (interesting, but not useful for this piece), and the OECD (good data). God bless Google! After some intense skimming, I was ready to start writing. At about 4 I showed a draft to my wife; she urged me to tone it down a bit. For some reason the rewrite was harder than usual; at about 5:30 I called Steve Pickering, my copy-editor at the Times, to give him a heads-up that I was running late. At 6:30 I filed. At about 7 Steve called back.

Then came the Times edit, which consisted of the following: 1. I had - to my considerable embarrassment - used a mixed metaphor ("a green light to push the envelope" - ugh!). That's unusual, because I try to avoid that sort of thing. So we fixed it. 2. I was three lines long - I always make the draft about 730 words, but the actual line count and the format are a bit unpredictable. So we found three widows, and I rephrased a passage in each paragraph to get rid of them.

I gather that I'm a low-maintenance columnist: normally I come in on time, on length, and without any necessary rewriting.

Did the higher-ups at the Times suggest the topic, or intervene in the process? No. In fact, I haven't communicated with anyone in management for weeks if not months. Did I coordinate my plans for this column, or for a string of columns, with other people? Do I hang out with Democratic activists, or the liberal intelligentsia? No - I live in New Jersey, and rarely go to New York, almost never to Washington. I was, however, in New York on Friday May 10: I had an all-day meeting with my textbook publishers.

So that's how it works. Sinister and glamorous, huh?

Originally published on Paul Krugman's official site, 5.14.02