Driving to work yesterday listening to Maine Public Radio, I heard an opinion piece on Marketplace that really wound me up. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and policy wonk with the American Enterprise Institute made the argument that "economic populism," (i.e. government intervening in the market to ensure that big business treats America workers fairly and ensures prosperity and minimal living standards for all) is a recipe for economic slowdown.
Frum argued that even the slightest decrease in economic growth, say from 3 to 2.5 percent annually over the next 5 years, would be disastrous, causing the U.S. to slip dangerously from its front runner position in world economies.
Ok, the gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world will close, but why is that so terrible? The economies of many other developed nations lag far behind ours, but these nations still prosper. Britons and Canadians enjoy good quality health care, education, a high standard of living. The countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark are known worldwide for their far-sighted views of maternity leave and childcare. Dare I suggest that if in this country our economic resources were fewer, we might use them more carefully?
Reaching back through the cobwebs of time to my freshman economics class in college, I must have learned the benefits of being the economic front runner, but from my current perspective, I see that unchecked economic growth is not lifting up our nation as a whole, but is creating a widening income gap between the rich and poor, and driving the former middle class into the working poor.
The average workers' wages have not kept up with inflation, and yet Forbes magazine reported that the 400 richest Americans increased their wealth by 10 percent last year, while the minimum wage still keeps our low-skill workers living in poverty.
I think it's time to take a new look at economic populism, which perhaps should be re-defined as taking care of our neighbors, to make sure we all enjoy a standard of living that allows us housing, health care, child care, access to a quality education, and nutritious food on our tables.