President Obama barely mentioned immigration last night except to make this comment: “Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up enough.”
But immigrants aren’t the principal reason for wage stagnation. They aren’t the reason at all. As I pointed out in a paper last year, those economists who favor more immigration and those who don’t—most notably Harvard’s George Borjas—actually agree that immigration has increased average wages in the U.S. The debate is over wages for high school dropouts. Immigrants aren’t harming the “average family.”
President Obama should have stuck to his original line in his prepared remarks that simply said: “immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough.”
The opening salvo of the President’s State of the Union held great promise. He emphasized the need to embrace change and discredited the notion of some golden era of past utopian contentment for which we should strive. He said that we, as a nation, are adaptive, resilient, optimistic, and possess an enduring spirit of discovery.
Throughout American history, he observed:
There have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before.
A great sentiment. And, unfortunately, the high point of the evening.
Disappointingly, President Obama failed to address any issues related to technology–in particular encryption, cybersecurity, and government surveillance. Despite the saliency of these issues, they were nowhere to be found in the President’s speech.
Indeed, there are “outdated regulations and red tape that needs to be cut,” especially when it comes to promoting technological progress and innovation. But this rhetoric is hardly substantiated by the President’s track record. Rather, as evidenced by ongoing disputes between law enforcement and Silicon Valley over encryption, government cybersecurity failures, and a lackluster focus on reforming regulatory policies in order to reignite a “spirit of innovation,” issues of technology have largely fallen by the wayside during the President’s tenure.
President Obama’s legacy could have been one of reigning in the surveillance state, embracing permissionless innovation and regulatory forbearance, and enshrining forever the principles of a truly independent Internet. Instead, it will be more akin to this final State of the Union speech: all bark and no bite.
Climate & Environment
President Obama said that those who still debate climate change science will be “pretty lonely.” It’s a fair point to make, with public opinion, consensus scientific opinion, international accords, and leaders from national security and business interests accepting the science. But loneliness is perhaps okay if one is right. We would note that the body of evidence is the challenge that climate skeptics face. It is the real reason that there is little scientific doubt that the climate is changing and human activities are to blame. Michael Shermer made that case in Scientific American late last year.
With the EPA regulations now with the courts and an international accord just finalized in Paris, President Obama had plenty of policy to tout as accomplishment and signaled that more regulation of coal and oil leases may be upcoming this year. The left clearly thinks that increasing regulatory ambition is a winning strategy—given public sentiment and the scientific evidence it is not hard to see why—which begs the question if the lack of policy movement on the right is the right way to go. We don’t think so.
In his final State of the Union, President Obama rightly noted America’s overwhelming military superiority—going so far as to cite Pentagon spending versus the combined spending of the next seven countries. These facts cannot be repeated enough, particularly in light of the ongoing one-upmanship in the Republican primary campaign to see who can call for more spending.
Unsurprisingly though, the president mentioned none of the problems at the Department of Defense that have continued to push costs ever upward. There was no mention of spiraling personnel costs or the need for further bases closures in light of military estimates that it is maintaining excess infrastructure.
Congress has been intransigent on both issues and President Obama, never shy about using the bully pulpit, missed an opportunity to push legislators to address them. Nor was there a mention of the Pentagon’s dysfunctional bureaucracy, its outdated planning system, or the need for the military services to make choices in their modernization plans. The omissions are not surprising, but they are disappointing.