Inequality
Obama Flubs Inequality Message
show comments
  • Anthony

    “Obama and those like him, focus so much on socio-economic causes of inequality that they tend to overlook the impact of cultural factors like the breakdown of the family and the decline of strong community institutions.” Less involved explanation WRM: not fashionable enough for sound-bite coverage; also cultural factors infer absence of responsibility inter alia – No benefit in that. See: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/articles/2013/12/05/Why-Obama-Cant-Rescue-Middle-Class

    Equally,…”exacerbate the problems of low-income people and make it incredibly hard for them to gain a foothold in the middle class.” Not just low-income WRM (remember above impact of cultural factors throughout nation). See:www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/12/shedding-the-green-eyeshades

    • Corlyss

      Anthony,
      I’m beginning to think we might be twins separated at birth . . .

      • Anthony

        Thanks Corlyss, I wiil take that as a compliment.

    • Andrew Allison

      Aren’t “cultural factors like the breakdown of the family and the decline of strong community institutions” social causes?

  • rheddles2

    Let’s start a pool: How soon will WRM fully self identify as a rube. As in, How could I have voted for this guy? Twice?

    • Corlyss

      Rhetorical question: do academics ever admit mistakes of that proportion? I can’t think of any representative instance.

    • Boritz

      I remember George Will came out in 2008 in favor of electing Obama because, to paraphrase and boil it down, McCain was unmalleable and hopeless. Obama on the other hand suffered mostly from inexperience and inexperience can be remedied by the acquisition of experience. This view, while it has some undeniable logic, seems as quaint today as an episode of Leave It To Beaver. I think Will may have remedied his own lack of experience with Obama. WRM, don’t know.

    • Thirdsyphon

      With alternatives like Romney and McCain, how could anyone *not* have voted for him, twice? If we knew in advance that McCain would still be alive and vigorous in December of 2013, that might have influenced a lot of peoples’ choices, but “President Palin” was an utterly unacceptable risk for a lot of moderate (and many conservative) voters.

  • Andrew Allison

    What would you expect from perhaps the most divisive President in the history of the Republic? The barriers to upward mobility are probably lower in the US than anywhere on Earth. What the left fails to grasp is that, like so much else, upward mobility is not an entitlement.

    • Charlie

      Can’t entirely agree, Andrew. Young people today (said the man with three sons in their 20s) are facing a much tougher time, and the reason for it is much discussed but not seen as the culprit because it is so benign. (Mr Mead, please take note. Here’s the missing narrative.)

      In the last fifty years, government has grown four-fold at the expense of all the private sectors. Even as someone who did business modeling with a keen eye for key operating ratios, I didn’t appreciate the harm from that until I read an article a few years back than mentioned that in 1960, one person in 19 worked for the government at any level (5.25%).

      I went to the BLS (around 2007) and found that we had 22 million government employees and 8 million workers in health, academia, research, etc. paid by tax revenues out of a total workforce of 150 million, or one in five.

      Public-sector workers feel the tax bite like the rest of us, but they don’t pay taxes in the real sense as their entire compensation comes from tax revenue–no new money enters the system.

      The analogy would be a company with, say, 60 employees, three of whom are overhead (non-revenue-producing). That’s about the same ratio we had for the public sector in 1960. The cost of each overhead worker can be covered by the earnings of 19 others.

      Keep the employment level at 60 but switch nine more employees to overhead–the situation we have with government now–and suddenly you have fewer than five workers’ earnings able to go toward compensating the each overhead worker. Lesson: small shifts in overhead ratios always have dramatic bottom-line impact.

      Just so. In 1960, it took the total taxes of two taxpayers to compensate the public worker, leaving the taxes of 17 out of every 19 others to go towards the highway program, the space program, schools for us Boomers, the occasional nuclear sub and the other stuff we want.

      Now it takes the taxes of three to cover the one public worker, and that leaves just two taxpayers in five to cover everything else (less than that when you factor in the cost of increasing public employment year-to-year).

      Guess what. It cannot be made to work. It is a formula for massive debt [check], rampant inflation [check] and vampire taxation [check]. Those in turn are the formula for the social ills that Mead and others are pointing to here.

      To put it in nautical terms, we are now all ballast and very little sail. When I got on board long ago, I could count on going places. Young people coming on board today, through no shortcoming of their own, are likely to look out and see the same dismal harbor all their lives (assuming the situation doesn’t get worse, as it must).

      How did we get here? In 1960 Wisconsin approved state-worker unions, something even FDR said could never be allowed. JFK followed with an executive order in 1962 permitting federal unionization, and we’ve had fifty straight years of progressives sitting down with other progressives to negotiate staffing, hiring and compensation. They are pretty much all highly loyal Democratic voters, so the more the better, right?

      • Charlie

        [Mr Mead, it was you who introduced me to the concept of the Blue Machine, the construct of patronage and cronyism progressives have put in place to promote their cause. Well, what I just described is the engine of the Blue Machine.]

      • That’s why Scott Walker has been so vilified in WI, during the past few years … he pulled the fuel pump off of the engine; the mandatory-union-dues requirement, in his state.

      • Andrew Allison

        I couldn’t agree more! But I submit that it doesn’t address the point I made, namely that nobody is entitled to upward mobility. To your comment, it’s clear that we have the Greek disease (a standard of living unsupported by our GDP). The correction when it comes, as it must, is going to be ugly.

        • Charlie

          What I couldn’t entirely agree with, Andrew, was that we have a lower barrier to advancement. In a little over two generations, we’ve developed a full-blown case of Euro-sclerosis, precisely because we’ve copied their giant-bureaucracy model.

      • Clayton Holbrook

        Interesting point. But I will say the following statement isn’t entirely accurate: “Public-sector workers feel the tax bite like the rest of us, but they don’t pay taxes in the real sense as their entire compensation comes from tax revenue–no new money enters the system.”

        Many gov’t agencies are actually self-funded, including employee salary, by the fees and fines they collect. Many gov’t agencies are partially self-funded to the tune of 75-80%. Some more research would be in order to determine how much this is so. And I’m guessing that this self-funding phenomenon is more prevalent in right-to-work states and at state and local levels where law abiding mandatory balanced budgets are more prevalent.

  • Corlyss

    “Obama, and those who think like him, focus so much on socio-economic causes of inequality that they tend to overlook the impact of cultural factors like the breakdown of the family and the decline of strong community institutions.”
    Of course. Then he and his ilk would have to acknowledge ownership of the policies that have produced the permanent underclass. It’s no nevermind that RINOs played the large role they did in enabling the policies because they didn’t want to appear “mean”; the policies themselves are Made in Progressiveland and have been for the last 100+ years.
    On second thought, I take it back. There’s no power on earth strong enough to make Obama and his ilk admit their ownership. We’ve seen that for at least 80 years.

  • E.G. Lim

    I love the way Obama always prefaces his ideological positions with “new studies say” Another trick of his is “Most experts believe” or “Most economists agree”…..After 5 years, the pattern to his propaganda becomes more obvious.

    • Michael Lombardo

      When speaking of Mr. Obama I urge the use of the preface, “As most lying sacks say…”

      • E.G. Lim

        Yes, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor….

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama don’t know nothin, he just be spewing the leftist indoctrination.

    • Andrew Allison

      You need to work on your punctuation and grammar bro. It be: “Obama don’t know nothin’, he just be spewin’ de leftist ‘doctrination.”. I confess, to my sorrow, that this clearly racist maladministration has made a bit of a racist of me.

      • Anthony

        It not the administration that’s a rationalization; the inclination was always there (be who you claim). And I’m done on this thread say what you will. See http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2913/12/12-years-a-slave-and-the-obama-era.html

      • Corlyss

        I had to laugh when a friend told me her son, who joined the Navy to become a SWCC boat crewman, had been stationed at Norfolk and admitted to her that after his exposure to what I call the “entitlement blacks” in the area had learned to be heartily sick of them and couldn’t wait to come home. His exposure to blacks here had been limited almost exclusively to those associated with USDA and the university here. Back where they often are not the minority makes for a very different atmosphere.

        • Anthony

          Everybody can cite an anecdote in country of 315 million Americans to square their predilections. Free country don’t justify stake your claim – World history replete with hate premised on… (on this one too, I’m done).

      • catorenasci

        Obama and Holder have set race relations in America – at the personal level of the attitudes of individual whites and blacks – back at least 50 years.

  • lukelea

    I knew he wasn’t serious about growing inequality when he didn’t mention the need to restrict immigration from Mexico, trade with China, or the length of the working day. It’s as sure as gravity that it’s all about the laws of supply and demand.

    • free_agent

      Cynically, I like to notice that if I’m looking for low-paying work (like mowing lawns), I face a lot of competition from Mexican illegals. But if I’m looking for high-paying work (like computer programming), the employers are pretty much stuck with hiring people who are here legally. Oddly, the high-paidpeople have a lot more influence in politics than the low-paid people…

    • Clayton Holbrook

      “…restrict immigration from Mexico…When it comes to dividing the economic pie…”

      I think this logic follows the faulty notion that the economic pie remains static. The focus shouldn’t be on dividing up the pie to people we think deserve more than others (that’s some pretty leftist thinking). The focus should be on how grow the economic pie which benefits everybody.

      • Kevin

        Low skilled immigration grows the economic pie but also drives down low skilled wages. It increases the returns to capital and high skilled labor thus further increasing income inequality.

        • Clayton Holbrook

          Would employers otherwise hire more lower skilled labor if the cost of doing so was higher? Cracking down on immigration from Latin America (it’s not just Mexico, to say so is very unintelligent) won’t automatically equal more domestically born lower skilled workers are hired at higher wages. It’s the wrong tact imho to help address income inequality.

          • Kevin

            It’s pretty uncontroversial among economists that reducing low skilled immigration will drive up wages for native born low skilled labor. Pretty much every economic model predicts thus and the data confirms it. You need a very weird economic model not to get this result. You might favor increased low skilled immigration for lots of other reasons – but a cost of this immigration policy will be lower wages among native born low skilled labor.

          • Clayton Holbrook

            Okay. But would reducing low skill immigration increase hiring of domestically born low skill workers at that increased wage? What effects would that have on overall domestic economic activity that encourages hiring?Would less low skill immigrants, thereby modestly increasing low skill wages, really be a policy maneuver that decreases overall inequality? My armchair economist self isn’t completely convinced.

        • lukelea

          Well said, Kevin.

      • lukelea

        @ Clayton, you are correct. Mass immigration and free-ish trade with China both increase the size of the economic pie. And potentially at least — certainly in the case of trade, not sure about Mexico — this could make everyone better off than before. Unfortunately, in both cases the gains are swamped by the redistributional effects of trade and immigration.

        Here is a good overview of the academic literature on the subject of immigration by Harvard labor economist George Borjas.

        Short version: excluding the obvious benefits to the immigrants themselves, the economic pie for the rest of the population goes up by $5 billion; meanwhile a total of $400 billion of income are shifted from labor to capital, leaving American workers $395 billion in the hole. These are just round numbers of course, and take into account the reduction of consumer costs for things like lawn maintenance services.*

        And to add insult to injury, it turns out that mass emigration from poor countries to rich hurts the majorities left behind in the poor countries themselves.

        *A very similar conclusion is reached in the case of our China trade — again after taking into account the lower prices consumers enjoy at places like WalMart.

        • Clayton Holbrook

          I hear ya. Thanks for nytimes link, I’ll study the issue a bit more. I would sill offer up my comment below in response to Kevin below. Cheers Luke.

  • Fat_Man

    He can’t get the government to run the programs that he wanted it to run, so he wants to tackle an amorphous problem about the basic structure of society that is extraordinarily difficult to formulate or understand using programs that he cannot fully specify.

    Sure, why not?

  • stevewfromford

    Well he certainly can’t admit that the great leftist project of convincing minorities and the poor that they are victims of powerful, shadowy and malevolent forces and therefore have no responsibility for their own fate has led,inexorably, to hopelessness, despair and the breakup of the family with totally predictable results, now can he?

  • B-Sabre

    The fact that he’s bloviating about this while the richest zip codes in the US are all clustered around DC is irony of the highest order.

  • David Zion

    Am I blind or is there no print button on the White House page for this speech?

    When the government subsidizes the results of bad activities (in a means tested way – i.e., only if you are poor, as it does), then if you are poor you may undertake more of this activity because it is relatively cheaper for you to do so.

    Also, 100 dollars a month in WIC means more to a poor person than a better off person.

  • lhfry

    The left has always focused on utopian fantasies that would solve the problem of inequality. But it is a problem that cannot be “solved.” Unequal results are inherent in the human condition and efforts by governments to manage outcomes always fail.

    We should strive for equal opportunity, but treating everyone equally inevitably results in unequal outcomes.

  • David Zion

    I have not read the speech yet but this obsession with inequality bugs me. I have never seen a good explanation or perhaps ever any explanation of why it is an actual problem beyond that it looks bad. Shouldn’t the actual absolute level of poor people be what matters or the relative improvement or deterioration of middle class people (or poor) compared to the prior year or other time period? Who cares how it compares to the top.

    It seems to be some unwritten agreement for ever one in the media and left all of a sudden in the last few years or so only to talk about inequality constantly and use that as some sort of measure of social ills.

    Dr. Mead – am I crazy? Why is this?

    Perhaps as a basis to tax higher earners more?

    • Those for whom “equality” is an obsession see life as a zero-sum game … and/or see personal advancement as “winning life’s lottery” and therefore unfair to everyone else unless the “winner” is compelled to “share”.

      There is also an element of fear in their thinking … that they must make sure that the only entity that can coerce action – government – is there to bail them out when they fail, because they fear that others will not be there to bail them out … and/or such a bailout may not be on their preferred terms.

    • Boritz

      When the lowest strata of your society has cars, homes, smartphones, etc. it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the obtrusive welfare state on the basis of the existence of a class once known as ‘the needy’. ‘Income inequality’ is a pivot to maintain a justification for a government that does all for all.

  • WilliamK

    Gee wiz. Mead, the brilliant academic, is finally figuring out what most of us knew a long time ago.

  • free_agent

    I think it’s messier than that…

    From a woman’s point of view, she can take the middle-class route and have her children supported by a husband, or she can take the lower-class route and have her children supported by the state (which will lead her to favor a much different sort of man). Economics suggests that the choices of women between these strategies will depend heavily on the amount of money a husband can bring in, i.e., the wages of men in her community.

    So in this way, the economic situation can drive people’s social behavior.

    And obviously, people’s social behavior drives their economic consequences — a woman with a husband is going to have a much easier time pushing her children into the middle class, because her children will have grown up in, and learned, the middle-class behavior pattern. (It’s interesting to read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and realize that the Nation of Islam ran an indoctrination program to teach — and *enforce upon* — lower-class blacks a middle-class behavior pattern.)

    In a vicious circle like this, it’s not set a priori which point in the circle is easiest to attack. Personally, I think VM is right, and that we can’t really fix this until “the next engine of mass prosperity” is discovered. At that point, the incomes of upper-lower-class men will start rising, and upper-lower-class women will start switching to lower-middle-class behavior (and dragging their men, now husbands, into respectability with them).

  • HRGuru

    Further, that the programs that we have put in place to help the poor have exacerbated these cultural problems.

  • Steve Gregg

    Broken families, missing fathers, and empty churches are just the expressions of bad values. The middle class values of a meritocratic society are being undermined by the Left’s vision of a society based on identity politics. Obama talks like rewards should go for what you do, but acts to reward you for who you are.

  • Clayton Holbrook

    The President seems to get it backwards. He seems to suggest that if people had more money they would more inclined to better education, better family dynamics, better health, and better church and community involvement. As VM alludes to it’s quite possibly the opposite. More stable families and better organized communities with functioning institutions leads to better economic opportunity.

    It’s much easier for a politician to redistribute wealth and think that will solve inequality issues than to actually change the community development dynamics which are the root causes of inequality. And it takes some perhaps non-politically correct fortitude to admit and come out and say that inequality is a cultural issue.

    • It’s much easier for a politician to redistribute wealth and think that will solve inequality issues …

      … behold, the Band-Aid(TM) …

      … than to actually change the community development dynamics which are the root causes of inequality. And it takes some perhaps non-politically correct fortitude to admit and come out and say that inequality is a cultural issue.

      Behold, the real cure.

    • Corlyss

      Well, gosh, politicians and judges had so much to do with actually changing the community, one wonders why so often they were liberals and the changes were detrimental to the community. Single women didn’t used to be able to live in public housing, with or without kids, until the 1950s when an urban judge ruled it was discrimination to do so. Divorce used to have to be for cause, but politicians changed the laws to no-fault and now we have serial monogamy to the extent that we have any monogamy at all. Politicians pushed federal money into local schools, which eventually gave them control of curriculum regardless of how many try to insist that the local school officials are still in control of content. That’s just a scant few examples of the manner in which far-reaching destructive social change resulted from the one-off efforts at “fairness.”

    • Corlyss

      Well, gosh, politicians and judges had so much to do with actually changing the community, one wonders why so often they were liberals and the changes were detrimental to the community. Single women didn’t used to be able to live in public housing, with or without kids, until the 1950s when an urban judge ruled it was discrimination to do so. Divorce used to have to be for cause, but politicians changed the laws to no-fault and now we have serial monogamy to the extent that we have any monogamy at all. Politicians pushed federal money into local schools, which eventually gave them control of curriculum regardless of how many try to insist that the local school officials are still in control of content. That’s just a scant few examples of the manner in which far-reaching destructive social change resulted from the one-off efforts at “fairness.” Society has bought into equal outcomes in a big way, instead of staying devoted to equal opportunities. When folks throw around “equality” and “inequality” without specificity, I cringe and check for my wallet and what fresh Hades they expect me to support in the name of “equality.”

  • Alexander Rawls

    On the economic causes of lost upward mobility, the problem is GOVERNMENT, as described in Hayek’s Road To Serfdom. The first person any small business has to hire is someone to handle all the government mandates, chopping off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. People cannot start their economic climb entrepreneurially, but must try to get in with an established company, which are piled even higher with employer mandates, now including the monstrous Obamacare.

    Obama’s answer to this government-created lack of upward mobility. More tax funded government “solutions” and more employer mandates! That is the Road that Hayek described: where the advocates of government solutions use the problems that their “solutions” create to expand government interference ever further.

    So no, it isn’t just that Obama is wrongly neglecting family breakdown, especially in Black America, as a cause of our large unproductive class, he is also 180 degrees wrong about the solutions on the economic side. We need to get government OUT of the economy. Government is the problem, not the solution.

  • bigfire

    Creating a dependent class IS the Democrat party’s platform. Having a perpetual poverty IS good for their cause.

  • CosmotKat

    “Whichever narrative wins over an increasingly attentive public is likely to influence policies ranging from tax code reform to social welfare spending, so it’s worth parsing Obama’s version carefully.”
    One has to parse every word written or spoken by this king of liars. He sees eveything in us/them terms and them turns out to be at least half the U.S. He has never been a President of the United States, but President of the Progressive party ruling over the U.S. One might say despot-lite. How soon before we see despot-heavy?

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    I would posit that the prime socio-economic detriment to upward mobility is the suffocating tax and regulatory regime imposed by government on an economy that just yearns to be free to reward those who contribute to it.

  • Jane the Actuary

    This is a dead end. It really is. Children need a mother and a father — and studies are now demonstrating what we intuitively know, that poor boys without fathers are in a world of trouble. But it’s become taboo to suggest that people should think twice before having sex outside a stable relationship, or that a couple (in a non-abusive relationship) should stay together for the sake of the children. And you certainly can’t say that fathers matter, except in a second-parent-to-share-the-work sort of way, because it’s an article of faith and government policy that Fatherless Families are Just Fine. http://janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2013/11/single-parenting-its-about-women.html

  • shearwater

    It takes a leadership that is willing to exploit natural resources that are available to improve the economy. By ratcheting down controls with draconian regulations on private enterprise Obama is killing the might and spirit of the USA. He has no interest in improving the economy. We can see that in his intransigence at approving the Keystone XL pipeline and other worthy wealth building projects that would hire more workers and redsuce the unemployment roles that now stand at more than 50 million people without jobs. Count them . . . 50 million unemployed! That is treasonous when a few simply administrative adjustment would rapidly put us on the road to recovery!

  • Kavanna

    Of course, Obama is wrong about inequality. The cultural changes (which are appearing in other Western societies) are unquestionably causes of growing income inequality. Together with the college-noncollege wage gap and the impact of automation and globalization, you have a triad of factors that add up to a mighty force to increase income inequality. And it’s not new. Income inequality has been increasing since around 1970, in strong association with just these cultural changes.

    What’s multiply ironic about this, however, is when we get to wealth inequality. Obama owes his election to wealthy, ultraliberal donors who funded his campaign in 2008. The aging Boomers, with intact (or at least reassmbled) families and decades of wealth accumulation, remain the winners of the low-growth Obama era, especially those with higher incomes. The millennial generation is another matter: weaker work ethic, weaker family formation, heavily indebted, what are they to do? They have been loaded down with the consequences of their parents’ generation’s greed and self-righteous narcissism.

  • $2356390

    Of course, Obama is wrong about inequality. The cultural changes (which are appearing in other Western societies) are unquestionably causes of growing income inequality. Together with the college-noncollege wage gap and the impact of automation and globalization, you have a triad of factors that add up to a mighty force to increase income inequality. And it’s not new. Income inequality has been increasing since around 1970, in strong association with just these cultural changes.

    What’s multiply ironic about this, however, is when we get to wealth inequality. Obama owes his election to wealthy, ultraliberal donors who funded his campaign in 2008. The aging Boomers, with intact (or at least reassmbled) families and decades of wealth accumulation, remain the winners of the low-growth Obama era, especially those with higher incomes. The millennial generation is another matter: weaker work ethic, weaker family formation, heavily indebted, what are they to do? They have been loaded down with the consequences of their parents’ generation’s greed and self-righteous narcissism.

  • David Zion

    This whole income inequality broo ha ha is an excuse to tax people more and give the money to poor people. This insures equality of outcome not opportunity and probably hurts opportunity by taking away the need to work and for personal responsibility.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.