Two weekends ago, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City held its annual monetary conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The left flew in hundreds of protesters donning green T-shirts that demanded “Higher Wages for America” and chanting, “We’re Fed Up.” The crowd was an assortment of college kids on their summer break, disgruntled middle-aged teachers, senior citizens, and blue-collar union members. Think Occupy Wall Street.
I attended the Jackson Hole conference and chatted with protesters who came in from places as distant as New York and North Carolina and California. What was their beef? Two black men who appeared to be in their seventies explained the agenda: “We demand higher wages.” “We want an increase in the minimum wage.” “The Fed is intentionally holding down pay.” “Corrupt corporations have all the power.” “Unions need to be returned to power.” A social worker from Kansas City almost sobbingly told me of the plight of the poor who she cares for in her job, of the “women and minorities [who] are being left behind,” as she made an abstract plea for “social justice.”
These were generally nice, sincere, and well-meaning people. They are hyper-concerned about the direction America is headed. They seemed to be earnestly parroting what the union organizers had drilled into them. They have no confidence in the decisions made by arrogant and elitist central bankers, and they are convinced that Republicans care only about the wealthy.
I would guess that 98 percent of them voted for Barack Obama joyfully and twice. What I encountered wasn’t so much leftist rage—that only happens when Republicans are in power—but leftist despondency. They reminded me of the bumper sticker: “How’s that Hope and Change thing working out for you?”
Many of these folks also sounded the themes of Trump supporters and Tea Partiers. At last, we have a consensus growing in this country on the left and the right—and presumably among many people in between. The wheels have come off. It is time to make America great again and rebuild our middle class.
So how should conservatives and Republicans respond to this pervasive despondency and fear? First, many of the left’s complaints about the economy are regrettably true. Yes, wages are stagnant. Yes, the rich are getting richer and poor poorer. Yes poverty is a massive problem in America. Yes, college costs way too much. Yes, too many neighborhoods in cities like Baltimore are blighted pockets of crime, joblessness, godawful schools, and hopelessness. Yes, of course, black lives matter. Yes, race relations have taken a leap backward.
But second, all of this has happened under the most liberal president since Woodrow Wilson. That is the unavoidable truth the left keeps trying to sidestep. Obama is trying to spin that things have gotten much better on his watch, while his own voters are saying they are getting worse. The latest Census Bureau income data show that since January 2009, the median household income has dropped by more than $1,500, and the biggest percentage declines have been among single women, blacks, Hispanics, and workers under the age of 30—i.e., the heart of the Obama coalition. People aren’t just imagining all of this. Where’s the recovery?
During this era of malaise, the Fed has held interest rates at zero for seven straight years, and yet Washington and Wall Street are in full agreement that the only way out is heavier doses of this crack cocaine of easy money. At the Fed meeting I met central bankers and their gaggle of Keynesian economists who for the first time worryingly and grudgingly admitted that their mathematical models about how to get to full employment have gone haywire and may not be reliable. Ya think?
Meanwhile, Barack Obama and the left’s biggest puppeteer/financial supporter, Tom Steyer, the billionaire green giant, keep telling America that the “moral crisis of our time” is climate change. That’s easy for a billionaire to say. Too bad no one in the middle class agrees. All that progressives want to talk about is global warming, and yet every poll shows that out of the top 20 issues, Americans rank climate change close to the last among things they are concerned about. The moral crisis of our time is an economy that has left American workers without a pay increase for nearly 15 years.