Sunday, June 16, 2013

Education Isn't Enough Anymore

On Friday,  Paul Krugman wrote that the technological revolution is leaving even some of the well educated behind:

Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.
I’ve noted before that the nature of rising inequality in America changed around 2000. Until then, it was all about worker versus worker; the distribution of income between labor and capital — between wages and profits, if you like — had been stable for decades. Since then, however, labor’s share of the pie has fallen sharply. As it turns out, this is not a uniquely American phenomenon. A new report from the International Labor Organization points out that the same thing has been happening in many other countries, which is what you’d expect to see if global technological trends were turning against workers. 

As a retired teacher, I've always placed my faith in education. It gave me a good salary and stable employment. It's a faith I've passed on to my children. One son is trying to finish his doctoral dissertation. Our second son holds bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as a community college diploma. Only recently has he found good, steady employment -- at the age of 31. Our youngest son is working on a bachelor's degree; but he wonders if he will spend the rest of his life busing tables.

In short, my children wonder if they have been sold a bill of goods. And, given the new rules of the game, perhaps they have. Krugman writes that, unfortunately, education is no longer the solution to rising inequality. And it was rising inequality which was behind the meltdown of 2008.

What, then, do we do about it?  The answer, writes Krugman, is to rebuild the social safety net:

If the picture I’ve drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society — a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules — would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income. 

His suggestion is not going to make conservatives happy. They have spent the last thirty years ripping the net apart, claiming it was only a refuge for the lazy. But the economic stabilisers which were put in place after the Great Depression kept the economy from going over the cliff -- until the Thatcherites and Reaganites got rid of them.

It's time the revolutionaries of the right faced the next generation, who feel that they've been lied to.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Lorne said...

A very interesting post, Owen. As I think I have mentioned before, my anguish over a lost generation mirrors your own. Our son had to leave Ontario to find permanent employment rather than remain in a job that offered him little satisfaction; our daughter, despite having a B.A, M.A. and community college certificate, is woefully underemployed.

I am outraged on their behalf, and on behalf of all of the other victims of the neo-liberal agenda, but until people realize that 'less government' is hardly the panacea that the right promises, and until they demand real representation from those we elect rather than in fact having far too many acting as simply proxies for 'shareholders' rights,' I fear little will change.

Owen Gray said...

Unfortunately, Lorne, the only platform plank that matters to a lot of voters is lower taxes -- even if the salesman for that plank is someone like Rob Ford.

You would think that guys like Ford would personify the sheer folly of that agenda. But, if the polls are to believed, Ford and his ilk are deemed to be "authentic."

Fightingfordemocracy said...

I never could understand why people were so passive about the destruction of working life over the past 20, maybe 30 years. It is not only a matter of money. The most basic labour laws are not enforced. There is no guarantee that workers will be paid even the miserable pittance they were promised. People seem to think the employer has the right to ruin the employee's health and that safety laws are optional.

A lot of people, maybe older or maybe just more secure, live in a lollipop world. Their 20-something "kids" live in their basements and the parents wonder why they lack drive and ambition.

Owen Gray said...

The inconvenient truth, Fighting, is that this generation of political leaders has sold out the next generation, even as they howl about the debt that is being dumped on the young.

They have sold out the young as they have sold out the environment.

And the young know it.