As universities continue to cut back or eliminate the humanities in favor of technical training to accommodate the growing financial industry, the idea of what amounts to an education has dramatically changed.

In the context of current economic inequalities experienced by the majority (students as well as non-students), here is Paul Krugman discussing Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke making:

a fundamental misreading of what’s happening to American society. What we’re seeing isn’t the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite.

I think of Mr. Bernanke’s position, which one hears all the time, as the 80-20 fallacy. It’s the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group — that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don’t have these skills…

Why would someone as smart and well informed as Mr. Bernanke get the nature of growing inequality wrong? Because the fallacy he fell into tends to dominate polite discussion about income trends, not because it’s true, but because it’s comforting. The notion that it’s all about returns to education suggests that nobody is to blame for rising inequality, that it’s just a case of supply and demand at work. And it also suggests that the way to mitigate inequality is to improve our educational system — and better education is a value to which just about every politician in America pays at least lip service.

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that’s the real story.

That’s right and unfortunately, nothing new.

You can draw many things from this analysis, but one of the more important conclusions should be the merits of self-education and the realization that those within the institutions of elite opinion are very susceptible to logical fallacy, and often disproportionately so.  So there.

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