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January 27 2014

More on SOTU: Getting Inequality Wrong

Charlotte Hays

President Obama and his team are all about packaging, and tomorrow night they will be about re-packaging: indeed, as Patrice noted earlier, the president will likely dust off some musty, old ideas and present them as shiny and new in tomorrow’s State of the Union address.

Here’s the advance word on the expected content of the SOTU:

In the speech, scheduled for 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Obama will push an agenda for increasing economic upward mobility and propose aid to the long-term unemployed, an increase in the minimum wage and an expansion of early-childhood education.

It is somehow not surprising that the president whose policies have put an “Exit” sign on the middle class is now proposing to provide more ladders (we’re told that is the word he might use) into it. But his proposals will bring us more of what we have had for the last five years.

An increase in the minimum wage and an expansion of early-childhood education will do absolutely nothing to increase upward mobility or aid the long-term unemployed. They’re just old ideas to which President Obama is committed regardless of the results.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Valerie Jarrett, the president’s top aide, is “twisting arms” of corporate executives to get them to sign a pledge not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed in hiring. Yeah, that’s what’s needed, another “meaningless public-relations stunt.”    

More early-childhood education sounds great—but we know already from studies of Head Start that any improvements from such an experiment are likely to be evanescent.

Much of the speech will be taken up with the issue of inequality, we are told. This is a subject near and dear to the progressive heart. Margaret Thatcher has already explained how they get it wrong: watch a clip of Thatcher explaining to a Labor MP that all levels of income were better off under her (a claim President Obama can’t make) and that creating opportunities for prosperity for the greatest number of citizens is superior to narrowing an income gap.

Indeed, there are two excellent articles today about how the president gets it wrong on his pet issue of inequality. One over at The Federalist says we’re asking the wrong question when we talk about inequality:   

Which do you believe is a more effective way to reduce poverty: Implementing policies that further redistribute wealth and close the inequality gap or fostering policies that create more class mobility for Americans?

On your answer to this question hinges your response to what the president will likely propose tomorrow night. But please do read David Harsanyi’s entire article.

Mickey Kaus, a maverick liberal, also has a terrific article on inequality today at the Wall Street Journal. The president focuses relentlessly on the supposed transgressions of his fellow one-percenters. But there is a deeper kind of equality to which he seems oblivious. Kaus explains:

Social equality—"equality of respect," as economist Noah Smith puts it—is harder to measure than money inequality. But the good news is that if social equality is what we're after, there may be ways to achieve it that don't involve a doomed crusade to reverse the tides of purely economic inequality. As Reagan's quote suggests, achieving a rough social equality in the midst of vivid economic contrast has been something America's historically been good at, at least until recently.

We can, for example, honor the universal virtue of work by making it the prerequisite for government benefits wherever possible. There's a reason Social Security checks are respectable and politically untouchable—unlike food stamps, they only go to Americans who've worked.

We can also pursue social equality directly, through institutions that mix people from all income levels together, under conditions of equal status—institutions like the draft, for example, or national service. Do we remember the 1950s as a halcyon egalitarian era because the rich weren't rich—or because rich and poor had served together in World War II?

 The president’s obsession with inequality is just another form of class war. He is willing to stir up envy for electoral advantages. Very likely, these propensities will be on full display Tuesday night.

Oh, and Kaus talks about respecting each other. How is the president doing with regard to being respectful to those who have the audacity to disagree with him?

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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