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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Jobs and Skills and Zombies": Kill This Zombie?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Jobs and Skills and Zombies" (, Paul Krugman engages in a full frontal assault against those who link unemployment with insufficient labor skills. Krugman informs us that "multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment." He goes on to say:

"The crucial point is that unemployment remains much higher among workers at all education levels than it was before the financial crisis. The same is true across occupations: workers in every major category are doing worse than they were in 2007.

. . . .

The point is that influential people move in circles in which repeating the skills-gap story — or, better yet, writing about skill gaps in media outlets like Politico — is a badge of seriousness, an assertion of tribal identity. And the zombie shambles on.

Unfortunately, the skills myth — like the myth of a looming debt crisis — is having dire effects on real-world policy. Instead of focusing on the way disastrously wrongheaded fiscal policy and inadequate action by the Federal Reserve have crippled the economy and demanding action, important people piously wring their hands about the failings of American workers.

Moreover, by blaming workers for their own plight, the skills myth shifts attention away from the spectacle of soaring profits and bonuses even as employment and wages stagnate. Of course, that may be another reason corporate executives like the myth so much."

Or stated more simply, the economy sucks, the Federal Reserve has pursued pigheaded fiscal policy, and mean-spirited corporate ogres are cashing in on this old wives' tale.

Well, I agree with Krugman that a "skills gap" is not responsible for American unemployment. I know too many middle-aged computer wizards who lost their jobs and couldn't get back on their feet.

But blame it on the Fed? Might it be possible that we have entered an era where computerized automation and efficiency are permanently reducing the need for laborers? Is this the beginning of a Brave New World in which the very talented few can do the jobs of the middling and mediocre masses?

Blame Politico for the skills myth? Peculiar how Krugman doesn't also point an accusing finger at fellow New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (see, for example, "If You’ve Got the Skills, She’s Got the Job" (

"[W]orkers in every major category are doing worse than they were in 2007"? Hey, Paul, that pretty much corresponds with the years of the Obama presidency, but of course, we also can't point an accusing finger at the first invertebrate to occupy the Oval Office. You see, Bush is still to blame.

Krugman's conclusion:

"So we need to kill this zombie, if we can, and stop making excuses for an economy that punishes workers."

Kill the zombie? Sorry, but I prefer not to use the word "kill," which has a habit of spawning violence. Reinstate the Uptick Rule and Glass-Steagall? Yes. Repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is proving anything but affordable? Yes. Resort to talk about killing? No.

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