If you've read my writing, you probably know of my dislike for The Great Education Myth - the myth forwarded by politicians and power-worshiping pundits like Tom Friedman that says all America has to do is better its education system in order to solve our economic problems. If people just got more college degrees, the myth goes, somehow that will raise wages and improve health care benefits in the face of a trade policy that encourages companies to troll the world for slave labor. Along with a few other progressive economists and reporters, I've written a lot of posts and newspaper articles showing what a bunch of crap this myth really is - and now today, the Financial Times reports on a study that reinforces what we've been writing.
Here's the key excerpt:
"Earnings of the average U.S. worker with an undergraduate degree have not kept up with gains in productivity in recent decades, according to research by academics at MIT that challenges traditional explanations of why income inequality is rising...The average graduate failed to keep up with gains in economy-wide productivity, once those productivity gains are adjusted for the composition of the workforce...This casts doubt on the conventional argument that the solution to rising in-equality is to improve the standard of education across the workforce as a whole...The failure of workers even with undergraduate degrees to keep up with productivity is due to a change in labor market institutions and norms that reduced the bargaining power of most U.S. workers." (emphasis added)
That last line is particularly important, so let's unpack the euphemisms a little further. The "change in labor market institutions and norms that reduced bargaining power of most U.S. workers" is business rhetoric for the crushing of domestic unions and the passage of trade pacts that include no basic labor, environmental or human rights protections - trade pacts that force American workers into competition with workers who have no basic rights. Though the Financial Times seems to passively portray those changes as natural forces like, say, a passing thunderstorm or a beautiful sunset, they are anything but. The changes are very deliberate, very calculated and very artificial - they are the result of specific public policies bought by Wall Street and passed by a corrupt Congress.
None of this is to say that education is unimportant - it is crucial, and improving our education system is critical. But the idea that fixing our education system alone can solve all the problems brought on by our rigged economic policies is abusrd - and the facts now show just how absurd it really is.
So the next time you hear a billionaire pundit or politician bloviate on about how working class America's problems with stagnating wages and decreasing benefits have nothing to do with the sell-out economic policies these same politicians and pundits have forced down our throats and everything to do with simply fixing our education system and making sure more kids go to college - remember, the very clear data shows that the Great Education Myth is just that: A myth.