- - Thursday, December 5, 2013


President Obama made another futile stab at his long-suffering, sluggish economy this week, but he still doesn’t understand why it’s not getting any better.

He didn’t address the lack of sufficient capital investment in a job-challenged economy or the tax incentives needed to get it running at full throttle to boost stronger economic growth and full employment.

He didn’t sound a clarion call to expand new business formation and encourage risk-takers who will put up their capital to launch new job-creating enterprises. It’s one of the hot topics in the economic community right now, but not in the Obama White House.

“There is an investment dearth,” complains Martin Wolf, chief economic analyst for The Financial Times.

Indeed, Mr. Obama didn’t discuss “economic growth” ideas in any meaningful way, and avoided any specific mention of the underlying illnesses that plague our economy: high unemployment, 11 million Americans out of work, and an undernourished economic-growth rate.

Instead, he talked about the dire social symptoms of his weak economy: “income inequality,” higher poverty rates, and the “daily battles to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement.”

In a 48-minute speech at an arts and education center in a low-income, Southeast neighborhood in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, he laid out what will be the economic focus in the final 37 months of his presidency.

If anyone thinks for a moment that the president offered a new way out of the long-stalled economic problems that afflict our country, you can forget it. This was a deeply political campaign speech laden with class-warfare rhetoric about how much wealthier people at the top earn versus those in the middle or at the bottom.

The nation’s frustration with the economy had nothing to do with his own impotent, counterproductive policies, he seemed to be suggesting. “It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them,” he said.

He raised the image of a child who “may never be able to escape poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care,” among other government programs. How about the more likely obstacle that her parents can’t find a full-time job, or that there won’t be a job for her children when they enter the workforce?

Washington Post reporter Zachary Goldfarb, who noted “the president offered little sense of how he might achieve his long-sought goals,” wasn’t fooled by Mr. Obama’s revival tent, political rhetoric. “Instead, the speech — coming at the end of a difficult and politically damaging year — was designed to help define a populist argument that he and other Democrats can carry … into next year’s midterm elections,” he wrote.

Blaming higher-income people for their success is not an agenda for robust growth and opportunities to climb the economic ladder. It’s demagoguery at its worst, aimed solely at dividing Americans on the basis of their incomes and class, and Mr. Obama is its most shameless practitioner.

Some Democratic leaders didn’t like it, either. “On a political level, we find it just very divisive and seeking out a host of things to blame for people’s predicaments and those folks are holding you down,” Democrat Jim Kessler, a co-founder of the centrist-leaning Third Way advocacy group, told The Post.

While Mr. Obama was attacking upper-income people and bemoaning the worsening state of poor people under his policies, a classic case of capitalism and upward mobility was playing itself out elsewhere in Washington.

Wal-Mart, for the first time, was opening up two new stores in the District. Democrats on the D.C. Council sought a minimum wage of $11.50, even if it drove Wal-Mart out of town. The mayor vetoed the council’s bill, and 23,000 people applied for 800 jobs.

Was Mr. Obama at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, praising a successful company for bringing jobs into a city where the poverty rate is nearly 23 percent and unemployment is 9 percent? In your dreams.

Mr. Obama presumably would have supported raising the minimum wage in the District because that was one of the proposals he was peddling in his speech for the rest of the country. He’s supported increases in the past.

Most economists say raising the minimum wage is a job killer and an additional obstacle to economic growth. Employers will either cut their payroll, reduce benefits, hire only part-time workers or raise their prices.

“Over 85 percent of [economic] studies in peer-reviewed journals say job loss occurs after an increase in minimum wages,” says Michael Saltsman, research director for the conservative Employment Policies Institute in Washington. “Economists are not divided on this issue.”

The rest of Mr. Obama’s agenda to make “sure our economy works for every working American” isn’t any better. It calls for universal preschool and spending another $50 billion in infrastructure construction projects. If $1 trillion in job-stimulus spending in his first term didn’t produce a strong, sustained economic recovery, it is unlikely an additional $50 billion is going to make any impact in a $17 trillion economy.

Clearly, the administration has run out of ideas on how to jump-start a lackluster economy, as Mr. Obama’s warmed-over proposals make abundantly clear.

Brendan Buck, chief spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, said it best this week in an email to reporters: “It should be no surprise why [Obama’s] approach has left more Americans struggling to get ahead. Rather than tackling income inequality by lifting people up, he’s been fixated on taxing some down.”

Welcome to the Age of Obama. It’s only going to get worse.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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