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State of dysfunction: Fairness, the economy and hypocrisy

By Peter Morici
web posted January 30, 2012

In his State of the Union Address last week, U.S. President Barack Obama hammered on two resounding themes -- fairness and the economy.

Barack ObamaBoth hollow from a president who has failed on the job. He has not kept his promise to get the economy going again, and inequities in income and opportunities have hardened during his tenure. Scratch the surface of his largely reworked proposals, and too much political opportunism and hypocrisy emerges.

Once again, he promised to tax the wealthy and lambasted oil companies, and offered the vision of an economy where every American has a decent shot at success through education and hard work. Yet, too many of his tax proposals are intended to punish his opponents and protect his friends, and his education proposals simply won't help the unemployed if the economy is creating too few new jobs each month.

The big fairness problem with taxes is that wage and salary incomes are taxed at much higher effective rates than capital gains and carried interest in partnerships -- the latter include the income managing partners and employees receive for running private equity firms and hedge funds.

Mr. Obama's minimum tax for millionaires would punish mom and pop businesses that create so many of the new jobs, as well as raise taxes on capital gains and carried interest. For the former reason, such a tax simply won't pass the Republican House. Doing more to tax investment income would more upset lots of Democrats and Wall Street financiers, and consequently, the President won't do much to surgically fix that problem.

Mr. Obama wants to take tax breaks away from oil companies, give those to high tech companies and leave carried interest giveaways in place for Wall Street.  Yet, it is not an accident that oil executives are usually Republicans, and high tech and financial executives provide the largest sums to Democratic campaign coffers and political action committees.

Sadly though, oil companies, in so many ways, have been blocked by President Obama from developing domestic oil, building pipelines, and creating lots of jobs in construction, steel and other building materials. Meanwhile, Apple and high-tech companies are champion outsourcers, and Wall Street too much specializes these days in downsizing American factories and financing foreign investment.

The President played to the middle class with high words, while offering to punish his opponents and reward his friends -- the economy be damned.

Once again, the President promised to beef up education -- train 2 million workers at community colleges for high tech jobs even though the economy is not even creating 250,000 manufacturing jobs each year. He wants to send more young people to college but a legion of new graduates during his three year tenure remain underemployed -- unable to start meaningful careers because stimulus, regulation and industrial policies, championed by Mr. Obama have largely failed to fire up growth.

The problem with jobs is demand for workers not supply. The trade deficits on oil and with China send consumer dollars and create employment abroad without returning to buy U.S. goods and create jobs for Americans.

The President says he's been tough on China and will get tougher -- but even he agrees China's undervalued currency is the big problem. He promised to forcefully address it as a candidate in 2008, has warned Chinese leaders he can take action if they don't, but he never acts.

On oil, he brags imports are down but that's mostly because the economy is slow. Too many Americans don't have a job to get to each morning, and too many can't afford to fill tanks for a Sunday drive.

After three years, it's time to admit this President is a great orator and skilled politician but as a national leader, he has failed.

Mr. Obama was elected to turn the economy around but hasn't, and it's time for a change. ESR

Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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