I popped in to Mankiw's talk at the Eastern Economic Association Conference, but only briefly. No personal disrespect to Manks here, but I have a fairly strict policy I like to keep which is this: i don't go to talks given by Economists unless I'm the Economist giving it. I wasn't always like this. I just learned, little-by-little, that Econ talks almost always leave something to be desired, and are usually a complete waste of time.
In any case, "Joe the Plumber", whom Meghan McCain called a "dumbass" was the inspiration for Mankiw's talk. To his credit, the talk was about the rising trend in inequality, but took the Goldin/Katz line that it's all about education and skill-biased technological change. I'd agree with him that, looking at recent US data, it looks pretty convincingly like we've had SBTC. But then, three other basic types of evidence completely contradict SBTC. One is the international evidence -- inequality trends in mainland europe, japan, and korea look nothing like the trends in Anglo-Saxon countries. Secondly, the long-run time series in America also shows that there are periods, which correspond closely to changes in institutions, when inequality ebbs and flows -- which suggests the more obvious conclusion that it's the institutional changes which are important. Thirdly, when we talk about the rise in inequality, we're mostly talking about just the top 1% of the population. And among the top 1%, we're mostly talking about the top .1%. So this has nothing to do with increasing returns to education generally, or any of that nonsense... Perhaps he critiqued the SBTC later in his talk, but I didn't stick around.
Other interesting things are that he's practically a hunchback, he was quite nervous for his talk, and afterwards, at the cocktail reception, after His Big talk, he was really puttin' em' down.