Did You Read Thomas Piketty’s Comments on Public Education?

Thomas Piketty is the French economist and author of the best selling Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in which he critiques rising income inequality.  Earlier this week in a television interview later reported at SALON.com, Piketty endorses investing in the U.S. public education system—the institutions that serve the 99 percent. He condemns political strategies, specifically those of Jeb Bush, that emphasize competition in an education marketplace.

About Bush’s record on education, Piketty says, “From what I can see he doesn’t want to invest more resources into education.  He just wants more competition… there’s limited evidence that this is working.  And I think most of all what we need is to put more public resources in the education system.  Again, if you look at the kind of school, high school, community college that middle social groups in America have access to, this has nothing to do with the very top schools and universities that some other groups have access to.”

When asked if American economic inequality is the result of a failing education system that ill-prepares students, Piketty blames other factors affecting American workers: “There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the rhetoric of conservatives who condemn inequality while failing to support policies like an increased minimum wage and ramped-up infrastructure spending.” “The minimum wage today is lower than it was 50 years ago, unions are very weak, so you need to increase the minimum wage in this country today.  The views that $7 an hour is the most you can pay low-skilled workers in America today… I think is just wrong — it was more 50 years ago and there was no more unemployment 50 years ago than there is today.”

In the interview Piketty recognizes the importance of education, but he says the idea that education alone can be blamed for America’s current inequality is naively simplistic.  He adds that a society must be willing to pay for quality education. “You need wage policy and you need education policy.  And in order to have adequate education policy, you also need a proper tax policy so that you have the proper public resources to invest in these public services… You cannot say, like many of the Republicans are saying, we can keep cutting tax on these top income groups who have already benefited a lot from growth and globalization over the past 30 years.” “So I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in this conservative rhetoric about the skill gap and the education gap.  If they are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut tax on the rich.”