Heidi Hall: State of the Union Address — bold or busted?
Last week we heard President Obama’s next to last state of the union speech (or SOTU in political geek speak).
It was an optimistic speech. Why? Solid numbers show the economy recovering, he no longer feels responsible for keeping the Democrats unified in the solidly red Congress and, as he noted in his response to GOP schadenfreude over his ending term, he doesn’t have to run again.
He is free to work on his legacy. His more progressive roots on social and economic issues were exposed.
To my mind, the most notable issue the president spoke to was a need for renewed focus on a “middle class economics” (or, as we used to call it,“economics”).
A total of 11.2 million jobs have been created in the private sector over 58 months, the fastest growth since 1999.
The unemployment and high school drop-out rates have dropped, 10 million new people have health insurance, and military troops were significantly reduced from 180,000–15,000 overseas.
All of this means less government expense and more income for U.S. workers.
The bad news is that this growth has not benefited the poor or the middle class. In fact, U.S. productivity has risen 65 percent since 1979, but median worker’s wages have risen by only 8 percent. The rest has gone to the already wealthy.
That is a shocking number.
The president’s call for us to “… commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort” by asking those who make more to pay more is right on.
This is not about redistribution; it is about fairness. It is about having everyone play by the same rules, as E. Warren likes to say.
It is about allowing the America that people of my generation grew up in to reemerge from the false value of greed and corporate power.
Friends on my right disagree that this is the answer, calling instead for more help for big corporations (but not small businesses) and less investment by the government in jobs, education, or anything else.
They are wrong — trickle down economics has had 30 years to show it works, and it simply doesn’t.
See Sam Brownback’s Kansas for a real-time freak show of the trickle down collapse of an entire state.
If wealthy private sector decision-makers would “trickle down” their profits, then that 65 percent rise in productivity would have resulted in much higher wages than they have.
To top it off, last week Congress passed an anti-women’s health bill that would increase taxes on 87 percent of small businesses, in the name of controlling women’s choices.
It is an Economics 101 truism that getting more money in the pockets of people who spend it is the best way to grow the economy. The middle class spends lavishly; we are out there all the time buying things we need, like food, shelter, and clothing.
The question is how to get more money to people like you and me, and who makes that happen. Ideally, we earn it. We are paid the true value of our labor. Since this is no longer happening, we need government to act.
Specifically, to close corporate loopholes, restore a sane tax rate to big corporations and the wealthy, and protect American jobs from being outsourced.
Friends on the left disagree, too, some of them are very angry that the president didn’t press for these economic fixes earlier. They are wrong, too.
In 2009, we were in the middle of the most serious economic crisis we have experienced since the Great Depression. Even the experts could not say for sure if the economy might actually collapse.
In addition, the extremists in the GOP were itching for a government shutdown, creating even more uncertainty. This was not the time to have the corporate loophole and tax reform debate.
It was, however, time to tighten up financial regulations and this did not happen. But that is the topic of another column.
The president was right, using all the standard measures of improvement the economy is continuing to rebound slowly and unequally.
The majority of us are not benefiting from this yet, and we won’t unless we see some more aggressive action from Congress than we have so far.
This is an opportunity for the GOP to reset their failing economic ideologies and work with the president to help the middle class.
Whether they do so or not depends upon how willing they are to rule by economic facts and not fiction.
Based on their first week’s work, going after women’s health and ignoring jobs programs altogether, it doesn’t look hopeful. But that’s another column, too.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at email@example.com.
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