If there is a deeper crisis that the Obama administration is responding to, it's the crisis of labor-force participation. One reason unemployment is down to 5.6 percent is that millions of people have dropped out of the labor force — they've stopped looking for work, at least so far as the government can tell. That may be because they can't find it, or it may be because the work they can find simply doesn't pay enough.There's probably a dissertation being started, somewhere, on the effects of the Tax Preparer Protection and Confusing Insurance Act on the incidence of part-time jobs. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey has the raw U-Six unemployment rate falling from 13% to 11.1% of the labor force; if my subtraction is correct, the percentage of the labor force "employed part time for economic reasons" fell from 5.1% to 4.4% of the labor force. The proportion of discouraged workers has fallen as well; whether that is because of anything Washington has done
And Reason's Nick Gillespie suggests that the message, and the method, are life-expired.
Obama's proposals are not merely incremental but dumb. Make two years of community college as free, ubiquitous, and doubtlessly rotten as K-12 education! Push students into robotics and nursing (decades ago it was computers and Russian)! Give parents more tax dollars to spend on day care! Tax American corporations into coming back to the U.S. while using federal money and pressure to expand their markets overseas!And yes, the limitations of Four of Five Experts Agree are visible, all around us. The transition to that new era is likely to come as a surprise, and to be messy.
There's nothing new or exciting in any of this sort of slop. What there is is what my colleague Matt Welch calls "magical pain-free prosperity" for everyone. Got a problem? Get a program! Deficits are down, so let's not talk about rising mountains of federal debt that's tripled on Obama's watch. Instead, let's talk about increasing federal spending. Let's talk about regulating gas and oil more tightly even as we celebrate becoming energy independent. Let's talk about getting "dark money" out of politics even as Obama set records for raising money himself. Let's talk about a new spirit of bipartisanship in the same speech in which you castigate your opponents as putting politics before principle and human decency.
My point here isn't that Obama is particularly awful on any of these scores. It's that he—and his speech on Tuesday—is perfectly representative of the played-out politics of what we might call the long 20th century, an era of mega-government, mega-business, and mega-planning.