President suggests U.S. replace Invisible Hands with Real Ones, do Stuff for itself.

Kids Activities Blog

by Bram Reichbaum

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a hyped-up speech about the economy.


In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity.  Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain — a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids.

But over time, that engine began to stall — and a lot of folks here saw it — that bargain began to fray.  Technology made some jobs obsolete.  Global competition sent a lot of jobs overseas.  It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class.  Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. (Text; Video)

The President then laid out a vision for encouraging that which America’s social fabric demands, but which markets do not produce: a “middle class” capable of generating robust demand for a stable economy.

To do this he would raise the minimum wage; use the tax code to reward domestic manufacturing and energy production; put more people to work building transportation, power and information infrastructure; lower the cost of getting an education; lower the cost of having health care; and make it easier to afford a home.

In other words, he proposed doing stuff, as opposed to doing no stuff. And he allowed that although stuff occasionally fails or requires revisions, we oughtn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and commit ourselves to do no stuff ever again.
And the media, in unison and quite predictably, shrugged and dismissed the speech as nothing new; as yet another pivot to economic issues, and politically impossible as always.

What was striking was the seriousness of the approach.

The President was resignedly, plaintively clear that these were the same debates on which we have been stuck for the last 30 years. That there are no “new” proposals.

If you have a square peg and a square hole, the only solution is to insert the square peg into the square hole, that is if you are indeed interested in filling holes.

Obama sought to lay a political foundation by implying that with the speed of our national social regression, this is the only debate in America that matters at this stage. On it hinges our capacity to address anything else.

We can be the nation we were until recently or we can be a mere zone, a set of borders, where contracts are enforced but families are pretty much on their own, where a vast majority and therefore the whole nation is going to be needlessly disadvantaged. Like an inefficient engine, we’ll simply waste capable people who require assistance surmounting the pitfalls of global competition; we’ll either miss them or they’ll gum up the works.

Obama bluntly promised that the rest of his Presidency would be driven by this priority, for better or for worse. Implicit was the idea that whatever else may be on your mind, it is not quite this sort of existential American emergency: a crisis of confidence, a rejection of the idea that we deserve to address the most common obstacles to economic participation.

Beth Kobliner

Implicit in the “bargain” the President sees is that if you’re worried about getting a job that enables you to pay bills, if your family is struggling to receive medical care, or with rent or qualifying for a home loan, and if college seems like an unaffordable, dangerous luxury — then you very likely feel justified in placing the great debates of our time on the back burner, such as domestic surveillance, or how to keep a lid on foreign affairs, or the vagaries of whether natural gas is a worthwhile bridge fuel in this age of coal, or the latest trade deal in a world where free trade has been ascendant since Adam and Eve. Those are all problems to worry about if the underlying rationale for this nation is healthy and people are benefiting from it.

Of all the ungovernable quandaries we confront, the dream of a strong and reasonably accessible middle class to drive national economic demand is the one our President, at five-years in, judges to have retained what is closest to a critical mass of support. It speaks to that face of national identity most difficult to surrender. The engine upon which the rest of our capacities turn.

The speech certainly wasn’t about Obama’s legacy or popularity, so I’m not sure why it is being evaluated exclusively on those terms. Take him out of it.

Instead it was meant as the opening tone of what promises to be a long, relentless wake-up siren that America is overdue in making a decision. What are we? Are we a nation? Are we going to be a nation that thinks ahead and puts one foot in front of the other? That acknowledges that broad domestic tranquility is a valuable, perishable asset that does not simply grow on trees, especially not in the face of global market forces? That can rebuild a bridge once in a while, or maybe even run a bus?

Sooner or later we’re going to have to remember we are in fact a nation, and that it’s okay to be one. It’s better than the alternative.

4 thoughts on “President suggests U.S. replace Invisible Hands with Real Ones, do Stuff for itself.

  1. Anonymous

    His policies are closing down electric plants and coal mines.

    Loss of energy sources drive up the cost of production in this country increasing the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US after he said one of his goals was to bring those jobs back.

    Continued losses in all of these offer few meaningful opportunities for the young non-techies in this country.

    He continues to pour American tax dollars down the clean energy hole leaving unsold (or unleased) thousand of electric cars while continuing to insist that dealers meet higher and higher quotas for cars that a lot of folks either don't want or can't afford.

    The stock market is way over inflated through the artificial crutch the Fed is using via low interest rates and printing extra money that has no real backing.

    This guy (while I believe well intentioned) has no clue on how to enable the economy to truly prosper in America. Worse, he cannot even admit when his policies actually hurt the middle class he said he is really out to so he keeps doubling down on the same bad policies.

    Next, he is aiming to bail out Detroit a city that has steadfastly refused to diversify its economy and were also practices of repeating failed policies. People will say he owes it to the Detroit city pensioners. I ask where his concern was for the pensioners he threw to the side during the car bailout.

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    The fracktivists will be thrilled to learn of Obama's fidelity to clean energy over jobs. I might similarly ask which money on the planet has “real backing”, except I acknowledge your point that the economy is way to sluggish… only I attribute that sluggishness to the continued refusal to invest in the country after a decade of tax cuts exploding the deficit. And how did Obama throw pensioners to the side in the GM bailout, excuse my ignorance, my impression was that the workforce was quite enthused?

    Most importantly, however, are you forwarding a plan for growing a middle class? Is removing government interference your plan for creating a middle class? Or do you deny a large “middle class” is that important?

  3. Anonymous

    Throwing pensioners under the bus — just check with the former employees of Adelphi (major parts supplier) or the former employees of auto dealerships arbitrarily shut down. Here is a link to just one article out of many on the issue.

    Removing government interference and unfair application of subsidies is a major step in the right direction. This includes lifting subsidies for both the green and the carbon energy industries. None should be government supported.

    And the government should definitely not be in the business of deciding who wins and who loses.

    The tax code needs to be simplified and the power of the IRS needs to be cut way back.

    Corporations shipping jobs overseas or bringing a major portion of their goods from overseas need to pay a penalty. This should have been done decades ago. We have let too much of our manufacturing sector simply go overseas increasing the profits of corporations and decreasing job opportunities at home.

    Profits for simply moving money around should not be so great. We do need a LOT more control in that area.

    Interest rates at the user level need more control. The Fed gives all of these cheap rates to the big guys and then they gouge the average loan receiver or simply deny them loans that they otherwise qualify for.

    Farm subsidies need to be reviewed — too many people (and this is not the little farmer but people that have taken advantage of public sympathy and government dollars to become multi-millionaires) and corporations getting money for doing nothing. Most of the folks getting these type dollars are listed by amount and year of all the dollars they get.

    Need more federal investment in transportation infrastructure — key to the economic vitality of this nation. I have no problem with increasing the number of toll roads to raise money for this purpose as long as it is used for that purpose.

    Need to control the federal-bank-higher education industrial complex. Too much money being sucked from the little guy with too little in the way of return on investment. Just look at all of the local “non-profit” and for-profit colleges/universities/training schools and the amount of money their administrators are making. Bogus training programs abound with very low job placement rates. Very little training offered on how to apply for a job, write a resume or how to prepare for an interview.

    All of this is currently being ignored so that we can implement rules and regulations that can shut down job sectors that are providing jobs and an in-demand products (gas, coal, electric energy plants, pipelines, etc…).

    While I am not an economist, these are just a few thoughts to answer your questions.


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