SOTU: Watch Away from the Ball

February 11th, 2013 at 1:38 pm

When watching a basketball game, though your eye is drawn toward the player with the ball, it’s good to watch how the play’s developing away from the ball—trying to see how players without the ball are moving–looking not just where the play is, but where it will be a few passes ahead.

That’s also the best way to listen to the State of the Union speech tomorrow night.  I’m very glad the President will focus on the economy and opportunity for the middle class, and I’m sure we’ll hear lots of good ideas in the areas of manufacturing, infrastructure, clean energy, and education (MICE??).  Those are certainly all areas where deeper investments would improve the economic opportunities of folks who haven’t seen nearly enough of the economy’s growth over the last few decades.

The question is, how do we get from Tuesday night’s rhetoric to Wednesday morning’s plans for actually implementing such ideas?  In that regard, here are some “away-from-the-ball” issues that bear watching:

NDD: It stands for non-defense discretionary and it’s a part of the budget that supports every one of those areas the President will discuss tomorrow night.  Yet it is has already been cut to the point where, as a share of the economy, it will fall to its lowest level since the early 1960s.  Vital programs in the NDD part of the budget thus look to already be underfunded relative to future needs.

–So, an important thing to listen for tomorrow is some sort of repudiation of this budget path.  And that means more revenues, more proposed cuts to other parts of the budget (basically, entitlements or defense), or most likely, some combination.  Theoretically, it could also mean willingness to tolerate higher budget deficits right now, but we’re pretty unlikely to hear anything like that tomorrow night, i.e., the President will propose to pay for any new spending.

–But won’t Republicans just block any investments in MICE?  Surely they will if the President’s ideas involve more tax revenues, which, as just noted, have got to be part of the solution.  That said, historically R’s have been willing to invest in infrastructure and education.  After all, these are public goods widely valued by the business community as critical inputs to production.   And some of the President’s manufacturing agenda involves tax breaks for domestic production or bringing offshored jobs back here.  So perhaps there’s some wiggle room there but that most likely depends on the extent to which House leader John Boehner is willing to allow votes that pass with majority D’s.

Rhetoric, even excellent rhetoric, will not recreate the long-missing economic tissue that connects growth to middle-class prosperity.  For that we need real, substantive investments in precisely the areas on which the President will hold forth tomorrow night.   Looking away from the ball means looking for those investments—and given the way the game is being played right now, they’re awfully hard to see.

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4 comments in reply to "SOTU: Watch Away from the Ball"

  1. Misaki says:

    From a financial standpoint, it is in the interest of the middle class for the government to avoid doing anything about unemployment among the poor. This was the entire point of my arguments in early June of last year.

    This is why the President’s game has been to appease the middle class while offering food stamps for the poor. Unlike during the Great Depression, homicides have not spiked.



    Nothing is going to change without using the idea of working less.

    (Edit after two rejections of URLs by spam filter) But the point is that money is not important to most people’s happiness. By not supporting working less, all you are doing is allowing everyone to stay unhappy — the poor, the middle class, and the rich. (Even if people are generally happy overall, and most people think they’re happier than the rich are.)

  2. Misaki says:

    It’s always possible to find excuses for not doing anything. “The US Presidential elections are today.” “The State of the Union address is tomorrow.” Since anyone who has lost their ‘innocence’ perceives themselves to have flaws due to their inability to resolve conflicts between their personal goals and society, people will not accuse anyone who uses these excuses of doing anything bad.

    But use of them is implying that other people do not want change to happen, and that’s why they do things that other people can use as excuses. If the President does not want personal success to correlate well with both income and free time, then certainly he would be ‘upset’ if you decided to support working less as the solution to problems at a time when everyone is anticipating his speech. Similar excuses could be found at any time, since there will always be something that catches the media’s attention and therefore invites discussion among people even if it is some trivial event.

    If you believe that people are ‘good’, then you should support the idea no matter what is going on.

  3. Fred Donaldson says:

    Despite his sincere desire to do the right thing, the President’s legal background has left him with the concept of adversarial negotiations – defense/prosecution – and settlement out of court, as a means of governance. While such machinations may satisfy the legal system, they are inappropriate when dealing with the livelihood of the nation’s middle class, decisions to go to war, or theft of the poor by the elite.

    Lawyers for the defense leave their beliefs at the doorstep to the courthouse, and often defend evil against punishment and measure success when a criminal escapes prosecution that is deserved.

    In addition, the President’s work as a community organizer has showed him one strata of society, certainly deserving help, but between that experience and attending elite private high school and colleges, has he missed sufficient exposure to the working class, the blue and white collars, who will never be cocktail party friends on one hand, or public housing tenants at the other extreme?

    Many in Congress are lawyers or business leaders who negotiate as a part of their avocation. Most out of Congress rarely negotiate and accept their jobs, religion and future without much though of getting a better deal.

    The media and the politicians who mold our economy try to convince us that there are two sides to every question and any solution cannot be one side or another, but only some blurry, negotiated settlement.

    Take the minimum wage, which now stands at about 50% of some other developed nations. If most Americans want it raised and there is good reason to do that, why must we enter some debating society confab, scuttle our principles and auction off favors – all in order to do what should be deemed necessary for the public good.

    The President needs to look at what’s good for the public in his State of the Union address, not the best deal that can be brokered, not the best compromise, and certainly not some distressing austerity in exchange for more pesky taxes on corporate jets or chump change loophole adjustments to the tax code.

    The economics are simple. This is not Downton Abbey, where the rich spend more on a party than all the workers earn in a year. We cannot survive if we go back to the State of the Confederacy and regard it as a blessing for our modern-day minimum wage slaves to work in the household and not in the fields. We must raise the minimum wage.

    No working American should pay $1,200 a month for family medical insurance, and then incur a $6,000 deductible, or more than $20,000 total a year, when median worker income is some $33,000 before taxes. We must provide universal healthcare at minimum cost to the citizen.

    No elderly couple should lose their life savings because nursing homes average $76,000 a year and Medicare pays nothing, then Medicaid only pays when you have spent down to a couple thousand dollars – enough maybe to cremate you. We need to stop robbing our children of their inheritances and include nursing home care in Medicare.

    Reducing the corporate tax for companies solely based and operating in the U.S. would raise taxes by bringing back more jobs and profits from overseas. We must engineer our tax code to enhance job creation by financial incentive and financial penalty.

    And conniving to lower unemployment insurance, Soc Sec COLA, Medicare age, student aids, delivering the mail – should be off the State of Our Union table, because hurting people is never a noble goal just because it saves someone, somewhere, money.

  4. Kevin Rica says:


    The perpetual renewal of the working poor is official government policy endorsed by the Democratic machine. That is why they do not want to enforce the immigration laws on the books and want to reform by opening up the doors to “guest workers” who will never leave. They want to make sure that we never run out of unemployed people desperate enough to take jobs at any wage.

    In any case, the minimum wage would defeat the purpose of giving the Chamber of Commerce their entitled allotment of low wage workers.

    Besides, ask any one competent to use supply and demand curves what happens if you increase the minimum wage and open the borders simultaneously — you just get higher unemployment. Makes no difference what else you assume about labor market elasticities, total employment goes down and the total number of job applicants goes up: more unemployment.

    As for tomorrow’s SOTU, I will probably find it refreshing. I believe that I have fallen asleep during every one of them since the first Reagan Administration and when tomorrow’s is over I will wake up refreshed for Jon Stewart.