Lawrence Mishel

Lawrence Mishel is president of the Economic Policy Institute, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States and around the world. EPI's mission is to inform people and empower them to seek solutions that will ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.

Recent Articles

The Overselling of Education

We need a better-educated citizenry, but the cure for increasing inequality lies elsewhere.

(Flickr/Jeff Ozvold)
In discussing rising inequality in the United States, Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke recently said, "It's a very bad development. ... It's creating two societies. And it's based very much, I think, on educational differences." A better-educated workforce is widely touted as the panacea for every economic problem. Education is said to be the cure both for unemployment and income inequality. To hear leaders of the financial sector talk, the underlying problem with the economy has not been a runaway financial sector but an unqualified workforce. In a recent Reuters special report on the U.S. economy, Diane Swonk, an oft-quoted financial-sector economist, said, "The recession merely revealed a reality that has been with us for a long time. We faced a growing gap in education and skills that we tried to fill with debt and credit, which gave us the illusion of growth." Or consider the statement of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank president, Narayana Kocherlakota, which removes...

Time to Take Action on the Recession

Reasonable people can debate the details, but first we need to agree on the principles for an anti-recession plan: create more jobs, start immediately, increase fiscal deficits in the immediate future, invest in infrastructure, and cut taxes.

The warning signs are everywhere: Unemployment is increasing, the housing market collapsing, new construction declining, retail sales disappointing, manufacturing stalling, and credit markets convulsing. Rightly enough the nation's political leaders are considering how to contain the damage from a recession many observers believe has already started. In many ways, the discussion reflects the debates that have shaped economic policies for the past three decades. The Bush administration and its conservative allies are arguing for more of the same policies that helped get the economy into the condition it's in: long-term tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy that reduce the revenues of the federal, state, and local governments and make it more difficult to address the nation's needs. Progressives are calling for a different focus – on creating good-paying jobs, increasing the purchasing power of working Americans, and investing in urgent national priorities, such as repairing crumbling...

Schools as Scapegoats

Our increasing inequality and our competitiveness problems are huge -- but they can't be laid at the door of our education system.

Education is the answer. but, what's the question? Simple: What's the cure for any adverse economic condition? Is your pay stagnant or declining? Quick, get more education. Are workers failing to share in economic growth? Too bad, they should have gained more skills. Are you worried about jobs offshored to low-wage countries? Blame schools for workers' lack of creativity. Is the nation failing to compete globally? Raise education standards across the board. Education as the cure-all is everywhere around us. But this contention exaggerates the role of schools in the economy, and it conflates two issues: First, how can American firms increase productivity to improve their ability to compete in the world? And second, how have the fruits of U.S. productivity growth been distributed, and what explains rising inequality? Education can help in the first area, although it is far from a silver bullet. As to the second, education deficits have had very little to do with the changes in the...

Populist Persuasion

Stephen Rose, Lawrence Mishel, and others are debating the economic politics of the middle class this week. Here is Mishel's opening salvo. Steve Rose has been my friend and intellectual colleague for many years and I hold him in the highest regard. But I strongly disagree with his recent piece for the Progressive Policy Institute and the earlier version posted on Donkey Rising. Rose does not believe a populist economic agenda is warranted or is useful for attracting middle-class voters to the Democrats. In his view, economic policies should seek to generate overall growth, assist the poor, and provide educational assistance to middle-income families in their role as "free agents," but otherwise leave them happily "on their own" within the broader economy. That's a shame. The vast working and middle classes in America have not fared well over the last six years and, in fact, have not fared well since 1973 (excepting about five years in the 1990s). Moreover, there are public policies...

School Daze

Charter schools, as their supporters promised, can give parents and students more options. But “more” doesn't automatically mean “better.” In addition, charter schools are no more accountable than regular public schools. The research on charters, as reviewed in a book I recently co-authored, shows that they will not solve the most important problems facing public education. What has amazed me is that even though the “facts” about charter schools are not much in debate, the charter-school advocates' response has been vicious and consisted primarily of name-calling (see here , here , and here ). This may be because many leading charter-school advocates argued that public education was failing because of stifling bureaucracy and restrictive teacher union contracts. If specially chartered schools were created without these bureaucratic and union burdens, they said, student performance would markedly improve. In the vision they offered, regular public schools would even get better, spurred...