Obama's speech on inequality and mobility was important:
Obama Gets Real, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Much of the media commentary on President Obama’s big inequality speech was cynical. You know the drill: it’s yet another “reboot” that will go nowhere..., and so on. But ... the speech may matter a lot more than the cynics imagine.
First..., Mr. Obama laid out a disturbing — and, unfortunately, all too accurate — vision of an America losing touch with its own ideals, an erstwhile land of opportunity becoming a class-ridden society. ... And he linked rising inequality with falling mobility, asserting that Horatio Alger stories are becoming rare precisely because the rich and the rest are now so far apart. ...
What struck me about this speech, however, was what he had to say about the sources of rising inequality. Much of our political and pundit class remains devoted to the notion that rising inequality, to the extent that it’s an issue at all, is all about workers lacking the right skills and education. But the president now seems to accept progressive arguments that education is at best one of a number of concerns, that America’s growing class inequality largely reflects political choices, like the failure to raise the minimum wage along with inflation and productivity.
And because the president was willing to assign much of the blame for rising inequality to bad policy, he was also more forthcoming than in the past about ways to change the nation’s trajectory, including a rise in the minimum wage, restoring labor’s bargaining power, and strengthening, not weakening, the safety net.
And there was this: “When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.” Finally! Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however,... we have the president of the United States breaking ranks, finally sounding like the progressive many of his supporters thought they were backing in 2008. This is going to change the discourse — and, eventually, I believe, actual policy.
So don’t believe the cynics. This was an important speech by a president who can still make a very big difference.