Is Education the Answer to Economic Inequality? Not in the USA.
Education can't solve economic inequalityWhen my guru forwarded Nick Hanauer's article in The Atlantic, "Better Schools Won't Fix America," I devoured it enthusiastically. Hanauer, a wealthy American philanthropist, with considerable credentials as a patron of education in the USA, was disavowing the dogma that education can erase the income gap--a dogma he calls "educationalism." Hanauer's criticism of his cohorts in the 1% is scalding. "Educationalism," Hanauer writes, "appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power."
Global education versus American educationThe article does not devalue education, but debunks a generalized notion that education alone can solve economic inequality. His argument, in a nutshell, is that "great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around." However, in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which is arguably the Bible for crusaders against income inequality, Thomas Piketty, argues that "the poor catch up with the rich to the extent that they achieve the same level of technological know-how, skill and education, [ . . .]."
The world's poor and the American lower middle classHow can we rectify this shared preoccupation with wealth inequality leading to such different conclusions? The simple answer is that Hanauer is talking about the USA (once known as the land of opportunity) and Piketty's perspective is global. As Steve Pinker observes, in Enlightenment Now, "the world's poor have gotten richer in part at the expense of the American lower middle class."
"The American lower middle class" (whom Pinker identifies as the Trump constituency) were exactly the people who were ill prepared to take advantage of globalization. In contrast, highly educated individuals from emerging economies, whose expertise, skills and products easily crossed national boundaries or flourished in cyberspace, enriched not only themselves but their home countries as well.