Op-Ed: Paul Krugman op-ed about income inequality is a must-read

Posted Feb 23, 2015 by Calvin Wolf
Widely-known economist Paul Krugman has penned an op-ed in the New York Times asserting that increasing education attainment is not the key to reducing income inequality. Krugman is right on the money...and could save us billions in wasted funds.
Increasing income inequality sucks. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This has been the case for decades, and is increasing in pace. Nobody, liberal or conservative, argues that this is an acceptable state of affairs. Both Democrats and Republicans passionately praise the American middle class. Both Democrats and Republicans bemoan the erosion of this middle class...but what is to be done about it? Real wages are steadily declining.
Traditionally, we have linked education attainment to economic security and performance. Get more education, and you'll make more money. A college degree will get you a "good job." An advanced degree will get you a "leadership position." We are encouraged to obsess over "furthering our education," getting our children into "good colleges," and expanding our minds and attitudes in ways only time on college campuses can achieve.
If more of our nation's young people can get college degrees, we are assured, our economy will improve. All of these young men and women will get "good jobs" and stimulate our economy. They will have skills that make them marketable in perpetuity.
But are we being led down an expensive false path? Widely-known economist Paul Krugman cautions us that education is not the key to solving America's income inequality. Krugman argues that the vast majority of America's increases in wealth go to those with power, not education. As corporations profit, the profits go to corporate officers who have stock options...not to the highly-educated experts who make the breakthroughs.
Basically, the increase in America's level of education attainment has not overcome the entrenched inequalities of power, tradition, and politics.
As a high school economics teacher, Krugman's arguments make sense. High school teachers are encouraged, tacitly and overtly, to inflate grades to shuffle students across the graduation stage and into college. Colleges are encouraged, tacitly and overtly, to inflate grades to keep students paying tuition and keep their graduation statistics rosy. More and more young people are graduating high school and college...but are "good jobs" awaiting them? Critics, myself included, contend that we have focused more on increasing the number of college graduates than on making sure "good jobs" exist.
The result is that many college graduates find themselves relegated to jobs that do not require their college-garnered education and skills.
Krugman is brave for speaking the truth, for he is threatening sacred cows. Education is one of America's most cherished institutions. We praise it and always advocate for more of it, rarely asking tough questions about it. We speak of education, learning, and academic achievement in glowing terms. Yet, at the same time, we allow the real wages of teachers and professors to atrophy and turn a blind eye to grade inflation, insulting the achievements of hardworking students to help slackers squeak by. When it comes to education, more is not always better.
Obviously, entire industries are out in force to keep America believing that more education, specifically more college education, is the key to improving society. The higher education industry, for one, champions this idea. Most secondary schools follow this party line as well. Politicians, afraid to ask uncomfortable questions about taxes and income redistribution, fall in line behind them. Many parents and students, eagerly seizing on the possibility that education can help them overcome poverty, become part of the chorus.
But, if we want to fix America's problem of growing income inequality, we need to get our hands dirty. We need to look at taxes and income redistribution, corporate policies, and government subsidies to businesses. We need to ensure that college students are learning the skills they need to succeed, not simply pop out more college graduates. Krugman has given us some food for thought, and think we should!