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Commentary: The president has worked to correct the inequalities of the past
1028Mark Weisbrot
Mark Weisbrot
It was in the 1980 presidential contest that Ronald Reagan first asked the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”It was a fitting introduction to the Age of Greed — don’t think about your fellow citizens or your country or the world, was part of the message — and it ushered in the most massive upward redistribution of income and wealth that America has ever seen.Over the ensuing three decades the United States would become a much more unequal society, where the majority of people could no longer aspire to a middle-class existence.The Reagan presidency itself was a disgrace in other respects, too, making America infamous in the hemisphere for its sponsorship of genocide and torture in Central America and dictatorships elsewhere.Now comes Mitt Romney in the Reagan tradition, hoping to win the presidency on the basis of America’s weak economy over the last four years. But there are a number of problems with his argument.First, the obvious: President Barack Obama didn’t create the economic mess that we are looking at — he inherited it from the previous government. Although both Democratic and Republican politicians contributed to the $8 trillion housing bubble that caused the Great Recession, it cannot be blamed primarily on the Democrats and certainly not on Obama himself.The question then is whether the Obama administration has done enough to turn things around in the last four years, and most important, whether Romney might do better.I have criticized Obama for not pursuing a much larger stimulus, as have other economists such as my colleague Dean Baker, and Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.The federal stimulus only replaced about one-fifth of the private spending lost in 2009-2010 due to the bursting of the housing bubble; and half of this stimulus was canceled out by the budget tightening of state and local governments.However, the federal stimulus did create an estimated 3 million jobs that would not otherwise have been there.