More than once, I have read through one of his columns and found myself in agreement (if not total, certainly agreeing with most of what I was reading), but then he comes up with something to which I ask myself, "Say what?" Thus it is today with his column on education: after making some sense, Krugman then gives readers the classic non sequitur.
The column points out that going to college might not provide the automatic financial boost for individuals that it once did, and he gives some examples. Unfortunately, Krugman approaches the entire subject from a purely administrative point of view, as though an economy were something run by a political board of directors.
In fact, most of Krugman's columns and articles do rest upon the viewpoint that an economy is something to be administered by the state, and in that point, it hardly differs from what used to be the case in the former U.S.S.R. and China. The U.S.S.R. used to have the highest per capita ratio of Ph.D.s to the rest of society, but the economic results were less-than-satisfying.
(When I was in graduate school, my math econ teacher, Henry Thompson, once pointed out that the Soviets led the world in developing the application of matrix algebra to solving simultaneous equations in putting together the economic Five-Year Plans. After telling us that fact, he added, "Of course, it didn't do them any good.")
As I read through the column, I realize that Paul Krugman the economist hasn't a clue about the role of entrepreneurship in an economy. None. Instead, we get this:
So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.In other words, "prosperity" is something that just happens (provided that the government "stimulates" the economy with enough "spending"), and that the government then must ensure that the benefits of a productive economy be spread throughout the population. Furthermore, the process must be one of, frankly, coercion. We must force employers to pay more, we must force taxpayers to purchase medical services for others, and so on.
In other words, in Krugman's view, an economy is something that is administered, supported by government spending and monetary creation, and everything forced upon others either through outright violence or threats of violence and property confiscation. Not once in any of his columns have I read anything that even was close to recognizing that entrepreneurship is the key to a growing economy.
Instead, Krugman seems to believe that an economy just "happens," and that the role of government is to keep the perpetual motion machine running. To be honest, there is nothing in his viewpoint that would be any different than what was done in the U.S.S.R. during the communist era. Education, then, is nothing more than a mechanism to put people in certain predetermined slots in which they would receive an income because, well, they are supposed to receive an income. There is no matching of any position with what contribution it actually makes to that thing called an economy.
(Actually, in Krugman's view, the usefulness of any position is in how much the person employed spends on goods. Likewise, the usefulness of capital is the spending required to create it. Spending, spending, spending.)
I also would add that Paul Krugman really would have no way of explaining why it was that the Soviet economy was primitive compared to what existed in the West. And we should not be surprised, given that one of his most important mentors, Paul Samuelson, actually believed that communism and central economic planning someday would result in a Soviet economy that would be more productive and prosperous than that in this country.
In the end, there really is no difference between MIT economics and what existed in the U.S.S.R. Everything either is administered or simply happens. All production functions are known, and all that is needed is for administrators to act according to "efficient" means. We see how well that worked in the Soviet Union.