Paul Krugman (AP/Lai Seng Sin)

Paul Krugman debunks the 1 percent's favorite victim-blaming lie

The New York Times columnist shows why Jamie Dimon's explanation for unemployment is nonsense

Elias Isquith
March 31, 2014 6:01PM (UTC)

In his latest column for the New York Times, celebrated economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman dismantles one of the 1 percent's favorite victim-blaming excuses for persistent unemployment: the so-called skills gap.

"[M]ultiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment," Krugman writes, responding in part to a recent Politico article "written" by JPMorgan Chase CEO and gazillionaire Jamie Dimon.


"But the belief that America suffers from a severe 'skills gap' is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true," Krugman goes on to write. "It’s a prime example of a zombie idea," he explains, "an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die."

To bolster his argument Krugman notes that employment is lacking among all education groups, compared to where it was pre-Great Recession. If it were true that a skills gap was the only or main reason behind unemployment, one would see employment among the highly educated (or "skilled") to be significantly better than for other educational groups. But that's not the case.

Moreover, Krugman writes, it's important not to take the complaints of employers about finding good workers without a grain of salt. If employers wanted to attract better talent, Krugman writes, they have at their disposal a very easy way to do so: raising wages. "In reality, however, it’s very hard to find groups of workers getting big wage increases," Krugman writes, "and the cases you can find don’t fit the conventional wisdom at all."


How to explain the persistence of the skills-gap myth, then? Krugman has an answer — class politics.

He writes:

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.

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

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Great Recession Jamie Dimon One Percent Paul Krugman Politico Skills Gap The New York Times Unemployment

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