Unity and inequality

January 28, 2014

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The most common complaint about the annual State of the Union speech, Jeff Shesol writes, “is that it is a laundry list, which is an insult to laundry lists”. President Obama will deliver his sixth tonight.

Inequality will reportedly be a major portion of the speech. Mark Thoma writes that Obama will talk about “ladders of opportunity” instead of focusing directly on inequality “to avoid being accused of waging class warfare”. Jason Linkins points out that Obama has begun focusing on inequality only recently, but that could work to his advantage if he plays it the right way: “the fact that Obama is a Johnny-come-lately to the topic has an upside — he won’t have to be the one desperately trying to point out the problem”.

Annie Lowrey reports that the president will also talk about “promise zones” (previously known as “enterprise zones”), or regions that “will garner renewed attention from Washington”, meaning being prioritized for new federal spending. While the plan seems to have bipartisan support, Lowrey notes that “past enterprise zones have a modest track record. Many seem to have no effect. Others seem to simply subsidize business investment that would have already taken place”.

The president is also expected to announce an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers starting in 2015, from $7.25 to $10.10. While the number of workers it will affect isn’t known, Jared Bernstein calls it a great idea, writing that it will reach, “for example, maintenance and food service workers in national parks, museums, and army bases”. Brad Plumer has a good rundown of how the President’s proposal will work. Notably, this is not a proposal to raise the minimum wage overall — the President tried that last year and it stalled in Congress.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the speech will be Obama’s announcement that many big companies have signed a pledge to stop discriminating against the long-term unemployed. The administration has published a set of best practices for companies committed to hiring the long-term unemployed, which essentially asks that companies don’t use long-term unemployment as a shortcut to reject applicants. Jonathan Chait says Obama is trying “to create a new kind of social norm in hiring”.

John Cassidy says that “sadly, Republicans in Congress are likely to resist almost all of [the President’s] agenda—just as they have done for the past three years”. Instead of focusing on what Obama will say, Cassidy points to ten ideas Obama is unlikely to mention, like guaranteed basic income or abolishing public schools, that he thinks are radical enough to actually make a dent the problem. — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Billionaire Whimsy
Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean your policy ideas make any sense – Matt Yglesias

State of the State of the Union
“Full employment”: the two words Obama needs to say tonight – Mike Konczal
In terms of “I”and “we”, Obama is “more or less in the middle of the pronominal pack” – Language Log
Economic inequality in 17 charts – Noah Chestnut

The iPod is dead, long live the iPhone – The Verge

The $950 billion farm bill, in one chart – Brad Plumer

A lot of major companies are moving factories back to the United States – NPR
Rebuttal: the industrial rebound is a myth. New US manufacturing jobs just aren’t that good – Steve Rattner

Unintended Consequences
How a law to stop US companies from dodging taxes ended up enriching CEOs – Bloomberg

A guide to the long list of loony things Tom Perkins has done and said – Nitasha Tiku

So Hot Right Now
“Cocoa prices are soaring” – Quartz

Medium raises $25 million – Recode

Just an FYI
Performance reviews are terrible for everyone – Jena McGregor

“Project Transform” continues to transform Barclays employees into ex-Barclays employees – Reuters

Northwestern’s football players want to join the United Steelworkers union – ESPN

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