Supporters of President Trump in Richfield, Ohio, last week
In a marvelous op-ed piece this morning, Paul Krugman absolutely nails the reality that underlies much of the hyperbole and mythology that’s been tossed around here lately. It is refreshing to see what happens when a Nobel Prize winning realist addresses a topic that attracts so much verbiage from all sides of the political spectrum.
If we care about economic inequality and how to address it, this piece is absolutely required reading — even if we have to pay for it (it might be behind a paywall — I’m a paid subscriber of the NY Times).
Some excerpts (emphasis mine):
These days almost everyone has the (justified) sense that America is coming apart at the seams. But this isn’t a new story, or just about politics. Things have been falling apart on multiple fronts since the 1970s: Political polarization has marched side by side with economic polarization, as income inequality has soared.
Mississippi isn’t an isolated case. As a new paper by Austin, Glaeser and Summers documents, regional convergence in per-capita incomes has stopped dead. And the relative economic decline of lagging regions has been accompanied by growing social problems: a rising share of prime-aged men not working, rising mortality, high levels of opioid consumption.
For the most part I’m in agreement with Berkeley’s Enrico Moretti, whose 2012 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” is must reading for anyone trying to understand the state of America. Moretti argues that structural changes in the economy have favored industries that employ highly educated workers — and that these industries do best in locations where there are already a lot of these workers. As a result, these regions are experiencing a virtuous circle of growth: Their knowledge-intensive industries prosper, drawing in even more educated workers, which reinforces their advantage.
And at the same time, regions that started with a poorly educated work force are in a downward spiral, both because they’re stuck with the wrong industries and because they’re experiencing what amounts to a brain drain.
While these structural factors are surely the main story, however, I think we have to acknowledge the role of self-destructive politics.
Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma — both of which were relatively affluent in the 1970s, but have now fallen far behind — have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. External forces have put them in a hole, but they’re digging it deeper.
And when it comes to national politics, let’s face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment. New Deal programs and public investment played a significant role in the great postwar convergence; conservative efforts to downsize government will hurt people all across America, but it will disproportionately hurt the very regions that put the G.O.P. in power.
The truth is that doing something about America’s growing regional divide would be hard even with smart policies. The divide will only get worse under the policies we’re actually likely to get.
Wow. There it is, laid out in reasonably succinct prose.
The key observation here is new for me — that there is, in fact, a connection between education and economic inequality. Let’s see the instant replay on that:
– structural changes in the economy have favored industries that employ highly educated workers — and that these industries do best in locations where there are already a lot of these workers
– regions that started with a poorly educated work force are in a downward spiral, both because they’re stuck with the wrong industries and because they’re experiencing what amounts to a brain drain
If we care about economic inquality, then we absolutely MUST do at least some of the following:
1. Revolutionize our process for sharing created wealth
2. Address the “downward spiral” in regions with a poorly educated work force
3. Celebrate, rather than attack, the sectors that employ highly educated workers — however wealth is distributed, those are the sectors that create it.
We must also address the role played by “self-destructive politics”.
This piece lays bare the populist lie that there is no difference between the parties on these matters. In fact, the two major parties are starkly divided and have been for decades. The Democratic Party steadfastly (even to its detriment) fights for programs that address these issues. The GOP fights those programs tooth and nail.
The explosion in economic inequality is the direct result of the triumph of GOP policies that produce it.
The Democrats are and have been the force that fights economic inequality. The GOP is and has been the force that promotes it. That is the simple and objective truth.
That’s what it MEANS to be a Democrat, and that is why I am a Democrat.