David Hoppe

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:: Middle class economics?

by David Hoppe

To hear President Obama tell it, when it comes to the economy, happy days are here again. “We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on earth,” he said, during his State of the Union address.

No way, say Republicans. “Americans have been hurting,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, in her party’s official response to the president’s speech. “But when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare.”

Never mind that the idea behind Obamacare was Republican spawn.

The numbers are plainly on Obama’s side. Employment’s up, the deficit’s been cut by two-thirds, the stock market, though volatile, has been booming. Peoples’ retirement funds have never been in better shape.

If, that is, they have retirement funds.

And there’s the rub. Somewhere between Obama’s talking points and Republican sour grapes lies the economy most of us live with every day. We may not be teetering on the brink of a massive financial meltdown, but, for too many of us, financial security remains a pipedream.

If the Great Recession of 2008 showed us anything, it’s the extent to which the terms and conditions within which we try to chart our lives’ course are hostage to the whims of others.

It’s heartening to hear the president emphasizing “middle class economics.” It’s about time Republicans noticed that wages and salaries have been flat-lining since before Ronald Reagan was in office.

But neither side seems ready to come to grips with the extent to which globalism and technological innovations have restructured the economy. Businesses are now able to be more productive than ever — but with fewer workers. While Obama’s proposal to make community college free to all Americans appears to be a bold stroke, akin to the GI Bill, it might also further inflate an already abundant pool of over-educated Americans.

Republicans, unfortunately, have little to offer by way of alternatives. Talk about a stale mindset! At least Obama can point to improving, if modest, metrics. The Republican program — reward the rich and hope that they take the rest of us into account through various forms of noblesse oblige, better known as trickle-down — seems little more than a fantasy, with more self-serving fervor going for it than facts.

Want to see what a model Republican economy looks like? Come to Indiana. We brag about our low cost of living; but that’s what happens when you pay people less than the national average. We’ve traded air and water quality for business-friendly environmental regulations. Our taxes are low, but then so are our public services.

All this, and a balanced budget to boot. 

If Indiana’s approach really worked, you’d think top businesses from across the land would be relocating here, building corporate headquarters.

We know that’s not the case.

The trouble is, whether you approach the economy from the left or right, eventually you run into one, fundamental question: What are people for? Until we get our arms around that, we’ll be chasing our tails.