Dave Helling: In economics and politics, talk is cheap

07/28/2014 3:21 PM

07/28/2014 9:43 PM

People lined up around the block Monday to scoop up tickets for President Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday at the Uptown Theater. He’ll talk about the economy, we’re told.

Almost exactly a year ago, people lined up around the block in Warrensburg, Mo., to hear Obama speak. He talked about the economy, part of what was billed as a significant reset of his domestic agenda.

Almost exactly four years ago, Obama spoke at the Folly Theater downtown. People lined up around the block to hear the president talk about … the economy.

Do you sense a pattern?

Obama talked about the economy in a speech in Osawatomie, Kan. He talked about the economy when he spoke to workers at the Ford plant near Claycomo last September.

If Obama talking about the economy actually helped the economy, we’d be at full employment and growing at a 5 percent clip.

We are not. Six years after the start of a deep recession, the American economy still feels sluggish, with wages stalled and unemployment stubbornly high.

The nation’s voters seem poised to punish Obama’s Democratic Party for those problems on Nov. 5. Yet polls show Americans also are disgusted with Republicans for ongoing financial stagnation — the GOP’s poll ratings are even worse than Obama’s.

That stalemate tells us this: For all the blather from both sides, the public knows politicians are locked in a 20th-century argument over 21st-century challenges.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback cut taxes to spur job growth, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon offered tax breaks and incentives for employers, classic economic development maneuvers from the 1980s playbook. Yet growth in both states lags behind the nation’s.

Why? Because jobs, wages and growth now involve more than taxes and spending. They’re the end product of a complicated tangle of other issues. Education. Health. Transportation. Energy. Technology. Climate. A changing workforce. Trade barriers. Foreign competition and wage rates. Declining unions. Unforeseen natural disasters. Disruptive foreign events.

Government budgets are part of that equation, but only a part.

Increasingly, many voters understand slow growth and income inequality won’t be fixed by another tiresome argument over tax cuts or the minimum wage. Fully repairing our economy will require a long-term commitment to fundamentally addressing a changed world.

Perhaps Obama and Republicans in Congress could start talking about how to do that. Many of us would line up around the block to watch.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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