Paul Krugman, a highly educated man, leaves himself out of his own column today in "Wages, Wealth, and Politics." The excerpt:
But he [Treasury Secretary Paulson] quickly reverted to form, falsely implying that rising inequality is mainly a story about rising wages for the highly educated. And he argued that nothing can be done about this trend, that “it is simply an economic reality, and it is neither fair nor useful to blame any political party.”I'll forgive him the odd switches between real wages and real wages in manufacturing, as well as the comparisons of wages for one group with income for another group. I'll even agree with him about his (later) discussions of where Republican Eisenhower and Democrat Clinton fit in their respective eras. I'll even forgive him the seemingly obvious point that in the "New Gilded Age," the income gains do seem to be at the high end, refuting his critique of Paulson's first point (under the very reasonable assumption that the top 1 percent is on average "highly educated.")
History suggests otherwise.
I’ve been studying the long-term history of inequality in the United States. And it’s hard to avoid the sense that it matters a lot which political party, or more accurately, which political ideology rules Washington.
Since the 1920’s there have been four eras of American inequality:
What’s noticeable is that except during stagflation, when virtually all Americans were hurt by a tenfold increase in oil prices, what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen.
- The Great Compression, 1929-1947: The birth of middle-class America. The real wages of production workers in manufacturing rose 67 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans actually fell 17 percent.
- The Postwar Boom, 1947-1973: An era of widely shared growth. Real wages rose 81 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent rose 38 percent.
- Stagflation, 1973-1980: Everyone lost ground. Real wages fell 3 percent, and the income of the richest 1 percent fell 4 percent.
- The New Gilded Age, 1980-?: Big gains at the very top, stagnation below. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent — people with incomes of more than $277,000 in 2004 — rose 135 percent.
What always puzzles me about Paul Krugman and his claims about inequality is why he doesn't seem to realize how silly he sounds when he refuses to acknowledge, and take some pride in the fact, that he is part of that top 1 percent. I find it hard to imagine that Paul Krugman's income in 2004 wasn't above $277,000, between his income from his university, his speaking engagements, his books, his columns, and his investments.
Now, does Paul Krugman think that he was just a tool of the "New Gilded Age" politicos? Does he owe his income gains to the people he despises, those nasty Republicans and that ridiculously centrist Clinton? I'd like to know. I suspect that if you asked him why his income grew to the point where he's in the top 1 percent, he would give some long answer, the shorter version of which is that he's "highly educated" and he's not lazy.
And the salient fact about this explanation is that it is accurate. Krugman's about as highly educated as you can get. He's got plenty of skills and occasionally (though not here) a good argument. People like what he does and he gets paid for it. Good for him. But good for Secretary Paulson as well, since Paul Krugman's own experience supports both parts of Paulson's assertion.