Since it’s safe to assume most people in South Africa don’t follow the U.S. economic trends on a daily basis, they probably don’t realize that the U.S. economy is growing rapidly — with second quarter growth potentially being double that for all of last year.
They probably don’t realize that U.S. unemployment rates are as low as they’ve been in many years, that the U.S. has added more than 285,000 manufacturing jobs over the past year, that construction jobs increased by almost the same amount, and the unemployment rates among blacks and hispanics have declined over the past year.
If it’s safe to assume most South Africans don’t follow U.S. economic trends, then it’s also safe to assume former President Barack Obama wasn’t about to let them in on the good news.
Instead, the former president used a speech Tuesday in Johannesburg to paint a picture of a U.S. economy that was frail, benefitting only the wealthiest of the wealthy, and one that would eventually result in many workers losing their jobs to automation.
“The biggest challenge to workers in countries like mine today is technology,” Obama said.
“And for once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don’t have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.”
Obama spoke at an event honoring the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela. He championed Mandela’s fights for human rights and his role in ending white rule in the country via Apartheid.
The former president said market-based economies have helped rid the world of most dictatorships, which has improved the cause of human rights around the world. But many of those economies have also increased the world’s income inequality, and he said the first way to address that is to change the world’s power structures.
“Whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away,” Obama said. “They were never fully dislodged.”
He also floated the notion of a universal income — taxpayer-funded stipends to low-income citizens — as one of the new ideas needed to keep market-based economies healthy and immune to authoritarian rule.
“It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. And so we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.”
“Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right,” Obama said. “You started seeing populist movements – which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests – these movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores; fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did.”
Obama also decried calls for stricter immigration controls.
“In the West’s current debate around immigration, for example, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed; that in the public realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home,” Obama said.
“Those are legitimate things and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly. But that can’t be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, or ethnicity, or religion. There’s got to be some consistency. And we can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child.”
He also said the world can’t solve its problems if it doesn’t agree on what the problems are. He made reference to the U.S. leaving the Paris Climate Accord as one example.
“I can’t find common ground if somebody says that climate change just isn’t happening, when almost all the world’s scientists tell us it is,” he said. “I don’t know where to start talking to you about this. If you say it’s an elaborate hoax, where do we start? Too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up.”
There are some objective truths that Obama and progressives also seem to reject, and the failure to address some of those truths — like the crush of illegal immigration, the tax laws that restrained business growth, and an education system that has failed to prepare many youngsters for the changing technologies — is why Democrats are on the outside of the White House looking in.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.