President Obama gave a strong speech on the economy Wednesday, focusing on the long term problems of inequality and its negative impact on opportunity, mobility, and growth.
In terms of diagnosis, it was a speech of great depth. In terms of prescription, it was ambitious. Clearly, he knows this Congress will not legislate his economic agenda. But he must set the terms of the debate, and I thought his terms were exactly right.
Diagnosis: His narrative began with the widely accepted view that while we don’t expect equal economic outcomes in America, we do strive for equality of opportunity. Of course, that aspiration has been thwarted throughout our history by exclusion, sexism, and racism. But it remains a highly legitimate national goal, and thus fair game for public policy.
The President made an important connection between higher inequality and the lack of economic mobility experienced by the increasing share of those on the “have-not” side of the great wealth divide. When such a disproportionate share of the economy’s growth eludes the poor and middle class, the barriers to realizing their potential are heightened. Historically, and the President drew pointed examples from Lincoln to FDR, this has invoked a role for government. (more…)