Inequality and Obama’s Free-Trade Conundrum | State of the Union

“Massive poverty & obscene inequality rank with slavery and apartheid as social evils. (Mandela)”

Inequality is the most menacing inhibitor of self-determination and the most pressing issue. A demon we can both bury in unified effort or turn a blind eye to and let corrupt us. A nation that does not address the unequal lives of its masses is a nation bound by oppression, broken dreams, long-term economic instability.

President Obama shared in the State of the Union address a deep concern with inequality and the commitment to curbing it in America while also strongly backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)- a 12 nation pact with Latin America and Asian Nations that is eerily similar to Nafta. Nafta, the free-trade policy with Mexico that shot inequality up in America and set the tone for the ridiculous inequality that exists in the USA today, according to Ezra Klien in this NYT piece. Should history be consulted, the President’s statements should shoot up red flags. David Bounior, a former United States Congressman brilliantly lays outs the merits of how Nafta bred inequality at home and how TPP is set to be no different and will continue to drive inequality.

We should learn from history-not repeat it. While NAFTA created cheaper international market for goods, American families, particularly those without a college education, paid a dire price. As college costs continue to skyrocket, they are quickly falling out of the budget for more American families trapping them in a cycle of poverty. College is becoming ridiculously expensive and many Americans are forced to taking obnoxious loans that will saddle us in debt (forever). I address that here with CBS News’ MoneyWatch.

To illustrate further look no further than full-time in factories making $27,000 a year before Nafta. These people lost, on average, $3,000 in earnings after NAFTA. Bringing them dangerously close to the Federal Poverty Level of $23,550 for a family of four-a level that’s near impossible to survive with in urban cities and the surrounding areas. While companies like GE promised they would bring more work home and hire more workers they actually fired more American workers and shipped those jobs abroad, where low-wage labor was not illegal and where there is labor abundance.

If your families immigration history is anything like mine this may cut deep. Arriving in the 1980s with but a few dollars to their name, these Indian immigrants worked ridiculously physically and mentally demanding jobs that paid them poorly for their work. They did it so that my sister and I could have a better life in a new world-a life they could only dream of. Back then if you worked hard you succeeded because of the system, not in spite of it. My mother worked hard, two jobs, a nursing license and a lifetime of endless back woes to go with it.  My dad, well that’s a story for another time–shoutout to all the #singlemoms-you all rock but boo’s for deadbeat dads. Do better folks. It was my mothers effort and endless pursuit of the American dream that put such a dream in our hands. Her diligence and policies that fostered good education in low income neighborhoods, fair-trade and labor laws, and quality control of our financial and banking systems made things work.

Imagine a new immigrant today–no, worse, an American who has lived here for generations, but hasn’t had the opportunity to finish a high school or college education (there are many). No degree–endlessly impacting job potential and earnings. Here is a Bureau of Labor graph that represents how measly the pay is for someone with no degree vs someone with– $454 for no degree, $626 for a high school graduate, $761 $1025 for college graduate and a whooping $1529 for someone with a professional degree. These numbers are generous. I should mention that the unemployment rate for No Degree Holding Americans is 14.6% vs their associates degree counterpart at 6.8%.

Lets build on this story.

This American makes just enough to get by with their family of 4. And when it’s a single parent on single income the story becomes even more troublesome–now you have to put in double work after full-time work to try and turn a house into a home, that is if you have a house. It’s not easy for anybody without any flexibility in their income.

Tying back to Nafta & economic policy. Nafta reduced this persons income by an average of $3,000 then or their job entirely. If we pickup its brother economic policy how much more income will these American families lose? How many more jobs will we trade away?

Inequality is serious. New York has the inequality of places like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho. I (and the world) consider New York to be one of America’s greatest examples of hope–the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the light has long filled me with the potential for the American dream. Brilliantly inscribed,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

So how long do we preach about strengthening access to that dream and evening the playground while writing, passing,and supporting policies that take fatal shots at it? How long do we turn a blind eye to the intersections of injustice and inequality in our cities and our neighborhoods allowing national policies to deflate local economy’s, small businesses and the morale of our next generation?

When does America stand up? When do we educate all of our people, give them the tools to lift themselves out of poverty, create jobs and well regulated national/international economic policies that protect people that work hard? Inequality is the worlds most pressing issue over the next 15 years. The richest 84 people in the world are worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion (Credit-Suisse). We can’t solve the worlds inequality but we damn sure can set the example by solving our own.

We are a nation that put a flag on the Moon first, the nation of Tesla, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and brilliant talent, “where the son of a single mother can become President of the greatest nation in the world (Obama during State of the Union)”. If any nation can lead the way on this, it’s us, America. Together Business, Civil Society, and Government can solve our problems. We can tackle inequality through inclusive economic growth and smart industry/manufacturing. Capitalism can be our partner in growth-no longer a zero-sum game. Together across the aisle, across generations, and across sectors we have the potential to reinvent ourselves and remind the world what makes America great.

For my friends who read this and care (especially you policy folks), I’d rather you add your ideas and build a dialogue around what we can do over the next 15 years to make the world better. I don’t care about your political party or how much you love/hate the President. We’re in this together he as our leader, and we all have a stake & part to play. “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.(Mandela)” Lets get to work Marvin Mathew SEN


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