In his "Economic Scene" column on Saturday, "A Progressive Agenda To Remake Washington," David Leonhardt, the paper's resident economics thinker, pushed his single-minded focus on fighting the liberal white whale of "income inequality."
Leonhardt again blamed President Ronald Reagan for "magnifying income inequality" and praised Obama for trying to ameliorate it (and has it both ways a bit by calling Obama "a liberal answer to Ronald Reagan"). Liberal nostrums to the contrary, income inequality in itself is not a universally negative trait, especially for growing economies, but Leonhardt doesn't factor those clashing ideas into his thinking.
Leonhardt bragged that after the passage of both health care and financial "reform," Obama is on a bit of a regulatory roll:
...the turnabout since Jan. 20 - the first anniversary of Mr. Obama's inauguration and the day after Scott Brown, a Republican, won a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts - has been remarkable. Then, commentators pronounced the Obama presidency nearly dead. Today, he looks more like a liberal answer to Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Obama has been trying to reverse the Reagan thrust in some important ways. Although the Reagan administration did not shrink the size of the federal government, it changed the ways that Washington collected and spent its money, by reducing taxes on the affluent, cutting some social programs and increasing military spending.
These policies ended up magnifying income inequality, which was already rising for other reasons. Since 1980, median household income has risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled or quadrupled. Every major piece of the Obama agenda is meant, in part, to push back against inequality. Government may grow, but the bigger change will be how the government is spending its money.
A good neo-liberal, Leonhardt at least noted that many victories of the Reagan Revolution still stand today:
For all these differences, though, there are also ways that Mr. Obama and today's Democrats have accepted, and are even furthering, the Reagan project. They are not trying to raise tax rates on the affluent to anywhere near their pre-1981 levels. Their health bill tried created new private insurance markets, not expand Medicare.
Most striking, the administration is trying to improve public education by introducing more market competition. To win stimulus funds, about 20 states have changed their rules to allow more charter schools or to evaluate teachers in new ways. On Thursday, Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado signed a bill that would reward teachers who received strong evaluations and deny tenure to some who did poorly.
You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.