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Of Course They’re Fed Up

The left blames economic woes on everything except its hero president.

by Stephen Moore     •     Weekly Standard

Two weekends ago, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City held its annual monetary conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The left flew in hundreds of protesters donning green T-shirts that demanded “Higher Wages for America” and chanting, “We’re Fed Up.” The crowd was an assortment of college kids on their summer break, disgruntled middle-aged teachers, senior citizens, and blue-collar union members. Think Occupy Wall Street.

I attended the Jackson Hole conference and chatted with protesters who came in from places as distant as New York and North Carolina and California. What was their beef? Two black men who appeared to be in their seventies explained the agenda: “We demand higher wages.” “We want an increase in the minimum wage.” “The Fed is intentionally holding down pay.” “Corrupt corporations have all the power.” “Unions need to be returned to power.” A social worker from Kansas City almost sobbingly told me of the plight of the poor who she cares for in her job, of the “women and minorities [who] are being left behind,” as she made an abstract plea for “social justice.”

These were generally nice, sincere, and well-meaning people. They are hyper-concerned about the direction America is headed. They seemed to be earnestly parroting what the union organizers had drilled into them. They have no confidence in the decisions made by arrogant and elitist central bankers, and they are convinced that Republicans care only about the wealthy.

I would guess that 98 percent of them voted for Barack Obama joyfully and twice. What I encountered wasn’t so much leftist rage—that only happens when Republicans are in power—but leftist despondency. They reminded me of the bumper sticker: “How’s that Hope and Change thing working out for you?”

Many of these folks also sounded the themes of Trump supporters and Tea Partiers. At last, we have a consensus growing in this country on the left and the right—and presumably among many people in between. The wheels have come off. It is time to make America great again and rebuild our middle class.

So how should conservatives and Republicans respond to this pervasive despondency and fear? First, many of the left’s complaints about the economy are regrettably true. Yes, wages are stagnant. Yes, the rich are getting richer and poor poorer. Yes poverty is a massive problem in America. Yes, college costs way too much. Yes, too many neighborhoods in cities like Baltimore are blighted pockets of crime, joblessness, godawful schools, and hopelessness. Yes, of course, black lives matter. Yes, race relations have taken a leap backward.

But second, all of this has happened under the most liberal president since Woodrow Wilson. That is the unavoidable truth the left keeps trying to sidestep. Obama is trying to spin that things have gotten much better on his watch, while his own voters are saying they are getting worse. The latest Census Bureau income data show that since January 2009, the median household income has dropped by more than $1,500, and the biggest percentage declines have been among single women, blacks, Hispanics, and workers under the age of 30—i.e., the heart of the Obama coalition. People aren’t just imagining all of this. Where’s the recovery?

During this era of malaise, the Fed has held interest rates at zero for seven straight years, and yet Washington and Wall Street are in full agreement that the only way out is heavier doses of this crack cocaine of easy money. At the Fed meeting I met central bankers and their gaggle of Keynesian economists who for the first time worryingly and grudgingly admitted that their mathematical models about how to get to full employment have gone haywire and may not be reliable. Ya think?

Meanwhile, Barack Obama and the left’s biggest puppeteer/financial supporter, Tom Steyer, the billionaire green giant, keep telling America that the “moral crisis of our time” is climate change. That’s easy for a billionaire to say. Too bad no one in the middle class agrees. All that progressives want to talk about is global warming, and yet every poll shows that out of the top 20 issues, Americans rank climate change close to the last among things they are concerned about. The moral crisis of our time is an economy that has left American workers without a pay increase for nearly 15 years.

The left’s reflexive answer to that is to raise the minimum wage. But only about 4 percent of Americans earn the minimum wage and most of them are teenagers and young people who aren’t supporting a family. That there are a growing number of heads of households working at Burger King tells us a lot more about the flimsiness of the Obama economy than it does about the stinginess of fast food franchise owners. In any case, what will a minimum wage hike do for the other 96 percent except make a hamburger and fries more expensive?

Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, along with the unions, also want hundreds of billions more for “shovel-ready” infrastructure spending financed by even more debt added to the $7 trillion Obama has already borrowed. Japan has done that for 20 years and has been in what may be the industrial world’s longest recession, while Beijing’s central planners have built Potemkin villages the size of Chicago with empty shopping malls and vacant skyscraper office buildings. Government-directed investment means mal-investment, as debacles like Solyndra and California’s absurd $70 billion high-speed rail project confirm.

In other words, the left doesn’t have many arrows left in its quiver to aim at slow growth. We’ve had stimulus public works plans, $7 trillion of new debt, Obamacare, tax increases on the rich, three minimum wage hikes, Dodd-Frank, and bailouts, and all we got was an economy that looks like Cleveland.

The only excuse the left can muster is the sorry refrain of “secular stagnation.” As Obama’s first chief economist, Larry Summers, explains things: Two percent growth is about the best we can do in this 21st-century world economy. Now he tells us. When Jeb Bush and other Republicans call for 4 percent growth, the best White House economist Jason Furman can muster in reply is that “no serious economist” believes this is possible. These are people who drank their own Kool-Aid and can’t conceive of anything else working.

The left has gotten very good at telling the American people what they can’t do. They can’t stop illegal immigration; they can’t grow the economy; they can’t get people off welfare; they can’t come within a mile of balancing the budget; they can’t get an Obamacare website to work. Oh, but they can stop the rise of the oceans.

This “can’t do” attitude is pervasive in Washington and only breeds voter cynicism. It explains the rise of Trumpism. Even some country club types in the GOP join the left in sneering at Donald Trump for “offering simple solutions to complex problems.” I fervently disagree with much of what Trump proposes, but most of the economy fixes aren’t complicated. They are fairly obvious: cut tax rates, restore a sound and stable dollar, promote an America-first energy strategy, and roll back Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and EPA regulations that are strangling American industries. That agenda could be enacted in less than 100 days, and, yes, it would trigger 4 percent-plus growth and a rise in what Reagan used to call “real take-home pay.”

Back in 2010 Vice President Joe Biden famously promised the country a “summer of recovery.” We’ve just had the seventh Obama summer without a recovery to speak of. No one in Washington or out in posh Jackson Hole seems to have a clue what to do. That is why voters are nervous and fed up. Now progressives can only resort to the excuse used by then-New York mayor David Dinkins during his reelection campaign: “I’m doing the best I can.” Voters believed him, and he got trounced.

Stephen Moore is a Fox News economics contributor and a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.