Paul Krugman: Why Today's Grads are Better off than Abe Lincoln

What's the Big Idea?

The 17th-most cited economist in the world, a Nobel laureate for his work examining global wealth concentration and international trade, and the inspiration behind a viral Youtube ode, Paul Krugman is known as much for his outspoken criticism of the political handling of the great recession as he is for economic analyses. "The corrosive effects of high unemployment will cast a shadow over the economy for many years to come," he wrote in a recent column for the New York Times -- especially for young Americans.

According to conventional wisdom, the US unemployment crisis is a structural issue that will run its course, as workers leave industries that got too big in the bubble years. This perspective is dead wrong, he says, and it's irresponsible. We're bleeding jobs not just in specific industries, but across the board, indicating that the problem is not untrained workers but lack of sufficient demand (as in the Great Depression).

Watch our interview with Paul Krugman:

Nowhere is this more evident than in the experience of recent college graduates, who Krugman told Big Think "should be in a better position than those with lower education," but are actually in many cases faring worse. "They've come out of college with a lot of debt and they're coming into a job market that offers few jobs."

Approximately 1 out of of every 2 grads is unemployed or working in a job that doesn't require a bachelor's degree. That's the highest share in over a decade. Recent graduates are now more likely to work as "waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined."

What's the Significance?

"It's definitely hard, and I can't give you easy advice," says Krugman. But even in the hardest times, effort makes a difference. Bartending or waiting tables may not have been the path you dreamed of, but for many young people it may have to be a stepping stone to any future career. It's not personal. 

"Working even in a job that isn’t the job that you ought to have is better than not working," says Krugman bluntly. "And also, by the way, you're not just someone seeking a job. You're also a citizen, so vote for politicians who promise to do something about it instead of just using the usual empty rhetoric." 

Even those doing repetitive or boring work can stay connected to the world around them by reading the news, going to lectures and events, volunteering for a cause. Thanks to the internet, it's never been easier to access powerful people and participate in the larger public debate: it's happening every day on the web. Immerse yourself in it.

Civic involvement isn't just about resume-padding, it's about growing as an individual and a community member even if you're not getting a paycheck. "The world will be more ready to make use of you when this crisis ends if you have been keeping up with the world," says Krugman. "The ability to continue educating yourself is now even better than it was when Abe Lincoln was chopping logs. This is the great age of the intelligent person who wants to keep abreast and can become highly educated, can become an expert even without those formal qualifications."  

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less