Sometimes President Barack Obama doesn’t get enough credit for the things he says that are both good and true. On Saturday, Obama gave a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus that contained much of both.
“At a time when black unemployment remains twice as high as white unemployment, at a time when working Americans of all races have seen their incomes and wages stagnate even as corporate profits and the incomes of folks at the very top are soaring, we’ve got to pick up the torch of economic justice,” he said. “We have to make this a country where anybody who works hard can earn their way into the middle class.”
He’s absolutely right. But it’s only fair to note that this message is directly at odds with his more usual message, one of redistributing the wealth.
In their excellent new book, “The Poverty of Nations,” economists Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus explain that for a nation to move up the economic scale, it must produce more goods and services. Simply moving money around doesn’t solve anything.
“The reason that merely redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor does not solve the problem of poverty is it does not achieve the primary goal: becoming a nation that continually creates more goods and services,” they write. “Redistributing wealth in itself does not create goods and services in a nation.”
President Obama also addressed the free world’s best means of escaping poverty: education.
“We won’t rest until every American has access to a good education,” Obama said. “And we’ve got to make sure every child gets the best start in life. We want to give every four year old in America access to quality preschool. There’s no better investment. We should be making it right now. We can afford it. It’s the right vision. It’s the right time.”
He’s absolutely right. Unfortunately, this statement is at odds with his Justice Department, which has been targeting school choice programs that supposedly cause discrimination, by allowing students to escape failing schools.
“The U.S. Justice Department is suing Louisiana in New Orleans federal court to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in public school systems that are under federal desegregation orders,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported last month. “The first year of private school vouchers ‘impeded the desegregation process,’ the federal government says.”
Forcing children to stay in failed (and often dangerous) public schools is denying them access to a good education.
Obama also addressed opportunity.
“We can’t rest until we offer new ladders of opportunity for anyone willing to climb them,” he said. “When you think about America, when you think about the idea of this country, a big part of it is the idea of upward mobility, the idea that if you work hard you can get ahead.”
Once again, Obama is absolutely right. But once again, his administration’s policies are hindering his stated goals. The Affordable Care Act is demonstrably depressing hiring, because business owners are nervous about its costs and regulations. And jobs are the real ladders of opportunity.
Obama’s words are good and true. His policies fall short.