7.12.13

YOU DON'T SOLVE POVERTY BY THROWING MONEY AT IT.

Years ago, in a talk at the University of Wisconsin, Michael Harrington suggested that government could, in fact, fight poverty by throwing money at it.  (Infrastructure!  Parklands!)  He might have subsequently thought more systematically about his solution.  To the left of Mr Harrington and of President Obama, we see no such illusions.
President Barack Obama, down in the polls because of popular indignation over his fraudulent health care “reform,” adopted the unlikely pose of tribune of egalitarian values in a speech on Wednesday sponsored by the pro-Democratic Party Center for American Progress in Washington DC.

In typical fashion, Obama decried the growth of inequality in America as though he were an innocent bystander and had absolutely no role in the process he was criticizing. The most remarkable aspect of the speech was the contempt for the intelligence of the American people it expressed.

Calling the growth of income inequality the “defining challenge of our time,” Obama declared that “the combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe.”

That this multimillionaire can mouth such a string of clich├ęs with a straight face, when “our way of life” has become a celebration of avarice for the few and a nightmare for the many, only demonstrates his unlimited capacity for hypocrisy.
The MSNBC echo chamber, predictably, hopes to see more money thrown at poverty.  Joan Walsh has an unrequited pundit-crush on Our President.
What seems new to me is a sustained feistiness among progressives. The push to expand rather than cut Social Security is already widening the debate and making it harder for any Democrat to fearlessly back even hidden cuts like the chained CPI. And the wave of fast-food strikes and Wal-Mart protests is channeling the anger and moral outrage that inspired Occupy Wall Street, and then seemed to dissipate, into a policy agenda.

Which brings me to the president’s speech. He gave a similar one in the wake of the Occupy uprising, in Osawatomie, Kan., two years ago this Friday, and yet it’s been hard to translate his rhetoric into change. I find it hard these days to get excited about speeches, and yet, given the Republican extremism that’s led to gridlock, that bully pulpit is one of Obama’s most effective tools, and he doesn’t always use it to advantage. He did on Wednesday.
Joining her now is Ezra Klein. "The best speech Obama has given on the economy."  The blog-post is the speech, without erasure, alteration, interlineation, additional punctuation, or commentary.

But the speech is incomplete.
Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that unwed childbearing, father absence and fraying kinship and community networks exacerbate the problems of low-income people and make it incredibly hard for them to gain a foothold in the middle class. These are thorny problems that aren’t easily solved by the kinds of government measures Obama champions. So his speech says very little about the ways that strong marriages, family stability, or a robust role for churches in helping struggling Americans improve their lives can all improve economic mobility in this country. These social and cultural factors are arguably root causes of inequality, and it’s a pretty conspicuous omission to ignore that in a presidential speech on the subject. We’re glad people are talking more about about the yawning gap between rich and poor, but this troubling reality deserves a better treatment than Obama gave it.
And, only this morning, Our President doubled down on his conceptual error.
Just this week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that allowing benefits to expire will be a drag on our economic growth next year.  A report by the Department of Labor and my Council of Economic Advisors estimated that it could cost businesses 240,000 jobs.  And without the ability to feed their families or pay the bills, many people currently looking for work could stop looking for good.

So extending unemployment insurance isn’t just the right thing to do for our families – it’s the smart thing to do for our economy.
Good Keynesian counter-cyclical public policy advice. Provided the recession is like all other recessions.
So this holiday season, let’s give our fellow Americans who are desperately looking for work the help they need to keep on looking.  Let’s make it easier for businesses to attract more customers, and our economy to grow.  And together, let’s keep doing everything we can to make this country a place where anyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead.
I doubt that he's calling for a reduction in regulatory uncertainty or encouraging the common schools to inculcate middle-class values or for a new initiative to turn baby-mamas into Tiger Moms.

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