The Great Education Myth & the Neoliberal Bait-and-Switch

In simplistic, Lexus-and-Olive-Tree terms, the neoliberal* economic argument goes like this: Tariff-free trade policies are great because they increase commerce, and we can mitigate those policies' negative effects on the blue-collar job market by upgrading our education system to cultivate more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) specialists for the white-collar sector.

Known as the bipartisan Washington Consensus, this deceptive theory projects the illusion of logic. After all, if the domestic economy's future is in STEM-driven innovation, then it stands to reason that trade policies shedding "low-tech" work and education policies promoting high-tech skills could guarantee success.

Of course, 30 years into the neoliberal experiment, the Great Recession is exposing the flaws of the Washington Consensus. But rather than admit any mistakes, neoliberals now defend themselves with yet more bait-and-switch sophistry - this time in the form of what in my newest newspaper column I call the Great Education Myth. You can read the full column here.

No doubt, you've heard this fairy tale from prominent politicians and business leaders who incessantly insist that our economic troubles do not emanate from neoliberals' corporate-coddling trade, tax and deregulatory policies, but instead from an education system that is supposedly no longer graduating enough STEM experts. Indeed, this was the message of this week's New York Times story about corporate leaders saying America isn't producing "enough workers with the cutting-edge skills coveted by tech firms."

As usual, it sounds vaguely logical. Except, the lore relies on the assumptions that 1) American schools aren't generating enough STEM supply to meet employer demand, 2) the education system -- not neoliberalism -- is driving this alleged STEM drought and 3) if America came up with more of such specialists, they would find jobs.

To know these suppositions are preposterous is to consider a recent study by Rutgers and Georgetown University - a study I break down in my column. Read it here.

* Note: "Neoliberal" is very different from "liberal." The former, a term of economic characterization, refers to what we might more colloquially call "corporatists" or "corporate conservatives" in both parties. As the article states, neoliberals dominate both parties, but they are very different from genuine liberals. Indeed, genuine liberals are among the most vocal critics of neoliberalism. And of course, most foreign policy neoconservatives are economic neoliberals.