Obama on American politics and economy: the extended Vox conversation



so let's begin with the economy we're in a point where the economy is growing right we have very high corporate profits we have a record stock market and yet for decades now we've not been seeing significant wage increases for the American people how we got into a point where we can have high corporate profits and businesses can be doing so well but the workers don't necessarily share in that prosperity well this has been a at least a three decade long trend and this was a major topic in my State of the Union address we obviously came in at a time of enormous crisis and the first task was making sure that we didn't have a complete global economic meltdown the steps that we took whether making sure the financial system was functioning saving the auto industry you know encouraging state and local spending all those things made a difference in going the economy then it's been a hard but steady slog to the point where now we're growing at a robust pace unemployment has come down faster than any time in the last thirty years in some ways we're now back to the position where we can focus on what is this longer-term trend and that is a larger and larger share of wealth and income going to the very top and the middle class or folks trying to get in the middle class feeling increasingly squeezed because their wages have stagnated now there are a whole bunch of reasons for that some of it has to do with technology and entire job sectors being eliminated travel agents bank tellers a lot of middle management because of efficiencies with the internet and a paperless office a lot of it has to do with globalization and the rest of the world's catching up post-world War two we had just some enormous structural advantages because our competitors had been devastated by war and and we had also made investments that put us ahead of the curve whether in education or infrastructure or research and development around the 70s and 80s and then accelerating beyond that those advantages went away at the same time as because technologies companies are getting a lot more efficient and one last component of this is that workers increasingly had less leverage because of changes in labor laws and to the ability of capital to move in labor not to move you combine all that stuff and it's put workers in a tougher position so our job now is to create additional tools that number one make sure that everybody's got a baseline of support to be able to succeed in a constantly moving economy whether it's healthcare that survives job loss whether it is making sure that we have childcare that allows a two working household family to you know prosper while still caring for their kids having a certain baseline in terms of wages through the minimum wage so that's one set of issues a second set of issues then becomes how do we make sure that everybody has the tools to succeed in a economy where they're going to constantly have to adapt and how do they move up the the value chain essentially because they can work in higher wage higher skill professions and we're able to compete for those jobs internationally now the third thing is making sure that we've got economy that that's productive now if we do all those things then what I'm confident about is is that we can continue to lower the unemployment rate increase the participation rate and continue to grow and increase productivity we're still going to have a broader longer-term global question and that is how do we make sure that the folks at the very top are doing enough of their fair share the the winner-take-all aspect of this modern economy you know means that you've got some people who just control enormous amounts of wealth and we don't resent their success on the other end just as a practical matter if we're going to pay for schools roads etc and you've got you know 50 people there are 80 people heaven as much wealth as 3 billion you know you're gonna have problems making sure that we're investing enough and the common good to be able to move and move forward so that's a long-term question but right now there's some very specific things we can do that makes a difference and can help middle-class families and that's why I called it middle-class economics they focus a bit on that long term question does this put us in a place long-term where redistribution becomes in a sense positive good in and of itself that you have a an economy or potentially you have the government playing the role not of powering the growth engine which is a lot of what had to be done out of the financial crisis but of making sure that while that growth engine is running it is ensuring that enough of the gains and prosperity is shared that the political support for a fundamental economic model remains strong well yeah that's that's always been the case I don't think that's entirely new I'm in fact of the matter is is that relative to our post-war history taxes now are not particularly high or particularly progressive compared to what they were say and the late 50s or or the 60s you know there's always been this notion that for a country to thrive there are some things as Lincoln said that we do better together than we can do for ourselves whether that's building roads or setting up you know effective power grids or making sure that we've got high quality public education and the teachers pay are paid enough and the market will not cover those things and we've got to do them together basic research falls in that category so that's always been true I think that part of what's changed is that a lot of that burden for making sure that the pie was broadly shared took place before government even got involved if you have stronger unions so then you had higher wages if you added a corporate culture that felt a sense of place and commitment so that the CEO you know was in Pittsburgh or was in Detroit and felt obliged partly because the social pressure but partly because they felt a real affinity for the to reinvest in that community and to be seen as a good corporate citizen you know today what you have is quarterly earning reports you have compensation levels for CEOs that are tied directly to those quarterly earnings you've got international capital that is demanding maximum maximizing you know short-term profits and so what happens is is that a lot of the distributional questions that that used to be handled in the marketplace through decent wages or healthcare or defined benefit pension plans those things all are eliminated and you know the average employee the average worker doesn't feel any benefit you know part of our job is what can government do directly through tax policy you know what we've proposed for example in terms of how we treat capital gains that would make a big difference in our capacity than to give a tax break to a working mom for childcare that's smart policy and that there's no evidence that that would hurt the incentives of folks at Google or Microsoft or uber not to invent what they invent or provide services they provide it just means that instead of you know twenty billion dollars maybe they've got eighteen right but it does mean that that mom can go to work without worrying that our kids not in a safe place but we also still have to focus on the front end which is you know even before taxes are paid you know are there ways that we can increase the the bargaining power and making sure that an employee has some measurable increases in their incomes and their wealth and their security as a consequence of an economy that's improving and and that's where issues like you know labor laws make a difference that's where say in shareholder meetings and trying to change the culture in terms of compensation that at the corporate level those things could make a difference and there's been some interesting conversations globally around issues like inclusive capitalism and and you know how we can make it work for everybody when you drill into that pre-tax portion one thing you often find in wages is health care costs yeah and when you drill deeper into the health care costs one thing you find is that a major piece of why Americans pay so much more is it when we go to a hospital an MRI or an appendectomy or even a bottle of cholesterol drugs or just cost much more for an American vibe and it does in Germany in Japan or Canada and Great Britain why do you think Americans pay so much higher health care prices in folks in other countries well you know they I mean there are a lot of theories about this but I think the the the evidence points to a couple of key factors one is we got a third party system mostly we've got a system where everybody gets their health insurance through their employers obviously the Affordable Care Act Obamacare helps to cover the gap for those who aren't in that system but for those of us who have an insurer you know we don't track it and the market then becomes really opaque and and really hard to penetrate and you know health providers are able to I think charge without much fear that somebody's looking over their shoulders and asking well why is this cost that much so that's part of it that's one of the reasons why the Affordable Care Act a lot of the attention has been on making sure that the uninsured have peace of mind and that people who currently have insurance but at some point might lose it or have pre-existing conditions are going to have it that's a obviously the the moral basis for what we did but people haven't been paying as much attention to a lot of the delivery system reforms that we're trying to institute through the Affordable Care Act as well I can't take credit for for all four years of the lowest health care inflation in the last that we've seen since the Affordable Care Act passed some of the trends I think were already on their way but we are accelerating a lot of reforms for example you know what do we do to make sure that instead of paying a doctor or a hospital for just providing a service you know let's make sure that they're being rewarded for a good outcome which may mean in some cases fewer tests or a less expensive generic drug or just making sure all your employees wash their hands so that you're cutting the infection rate or you know making sure that hospitals are reimbursed when there's a lower readmissions rate as opposed to when they're doing more stuff and and using Medicare as a lever I think is creating an environment in the healthcare field where you know we can you know start getting better outcomes and you know lower costs at the same time now there's you know there's still going to be those who argue that unless you got a single-payer system you're never going to get all the efficiencies yeah there's certain areas like drugs where the fact that you know Congress has not and the Republican Party in particular has been resistant to letting drug makers and Medicare negotiate for the lowest price you know results in us paying a lot more than we should but you know if we're paying four five six eight percent more than other countries for the same outcomes I'd be pretty happy if we just get to the point where we're only paying two or three percent more because that represents hundreds of billions of dollars and means that we can do a lot with that money when you talk about Medicare as a lever Medicare tends to pay a lot less per service and private insurance by a margin right before single-payer there's all those there's also this idea you hear occasionally of letting private insurers band together with Medicare with Medicaid or to jointly negotiate right prices do you think that's a good idea you know I think that moving in the direction where consumers and you know others can can have more power in the marketplace particularly when it comes to comes to drugs makes a lot of sense now you'll hear from the drug companies that you know part of the reason other countries pay less for drugs is they don't innovate we essentially through our system subsidize the innovation and other countries are Free Riders and there's probably a little bit of truth to that but when you look at the number of breakthrough drugs and the amount of money that drug companies now are putting into research and where they're putting it a whole lot of it is actually in redesigning modestly existing drugs so that they can renew patents and maintain higher prices and higher profits that's not entirely true but there's some of it so there is a lot of savings that could be achieved while still making sure that our drug industry is the best in the world and you know we'll still be making a healthy profit to turn a bit towards politics at this point according to polls you are the most polarizing president really since we began polling but before you the record was set by George W Bush right before church record is set by Bill Clinton or it seems that there is something structural happening there in terms of party polarization in the way it affects approval ratings and cooperation with presidents say in your State of the Union you struck back at critics who say that the idea of healing some of these divisions is naive or impossible so when you welcome your successor into office what would you tell them there is worth trying but you think and still work it would reduce the polarization well there are a couple of things that in my mind at least contribute to our politics being more polarized than people actually are and I think most people just sense this in their daily life say everybody's got a a family member or a really good friend from high school who is come on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum and yet we still love them right and you everybody goes to a soccer game and watching their kids and coaching and they see parents who they think are wonderful people and then if they you know made a comment about politics suddenly you go I can't believe you you think that but a lot of it has to do with the fact that a the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts in a common worldview the way we did 20-30 years ago and that just keeps on accelerating and I'm not the first to observe this but yeah you've got the Fox News rush limbaugh folks and then you got the MSNBC folks and the I don't know where Fox falls into that but you guys are I guess for the Brainiac nerd types but the point is is that technology which brings the world to us also allows us to narrow our point of view that's contributed to it gerrymandering contributes to it there's no incentive for most members of Congress on the house side at least in congressional districts to even bother trying to appeal and a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money so people are absorbing mannan tirely different reality when it comes to politics even though the way they're living their lives and interacting with each other isn't that polarized so my advice to the future a future president is to increasingly try to bypass the the traditional venues that create divisions and try to find new venues within this new media that are quirkier less predictable you know yesterday I did three interviews with YouTube stars that generally don't spend a lot of time talking about politics and the reason we did it is because they're reaching viewers who don't want to be put in some particular camp on the other hand when you talk to them very specifically about college costs or about health care or about any of the other things that touch on their individual lives it turns out that you can probably build a pretty good consensus now that doesn't ignore the fact that you know I would love to see you know some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to or and maybe even improve it I'd love to see you know changes at the state level that reduced political gerrymandering so there all kinds of structural things I'd like to see that I think would it would improve this but the other been periods in the past would have been pretty polarized I think there just wasn't polling around as I recall there was a whole civil war that was pretty a good example of a polarization that took place here do you think that if we don't get some of those structural reforms and more to the point if we sort of continue along this path in terms of where the parties are in Congress are there ways to govern with polarization it occurs to me that your argument when you came to office but before you Bush was a uniter not a divider before him Clinton who is going to moderate and change the Democratic Party with this sort of Third Way approach the last couple of presidents have come to office promising the way they would get things done is to reduce polarization is there an argument or an approach that can be made to govern amidst polarization I a couple observations number one is that in American history even during the so-called golden age where you know you had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats and there was deal cutting going on in Congress generally speaking big stuff didn't get done unless there was a major crisis or you had a and or you had big majorities of one-party control in the Congress and a president of the same party I mean that's just been the history there have been exceptions but you know that's that's often been the case in terms of big muscle movements in the political system and you know my first two years in office when I had a Democratic majority in a Democratic House and Democratic Senate you know we were as productive as any time since Lyndon Johnson and when the majority went away stuff got blocked probably the one thing that we could change without a constitutional amendment that would make a difference here would be the elimination of the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate I think that does in a era in which the parties are more polarized in almost ensure greater gridlock and less clarity in terms of the positions of the parties and you know there's nothing the Constitution that requires it the framers were pretty good about designing a house a Senate two years versus six year terms every state getting two senators you know there were a whole bunch of things in there to assure that a majority didn't just run rampant the filibuster in this modern age probably just torques it too far in the direction of a majority party not being able to govern effectively and move forward it's platform and I think that's an area where we could make some improvement one of the powerful thing that's happened as polarization has increased politically is it's begun structuring people's other identities and the one I'm particularly interested in here is race if you look back at polling around the OJ Simpson verdict or the Bernhard Goetz shooting in New York Republicans and Democrats we basically couldn't tell them apart now you look at the Zimmerman verdict or you look at what's going on in Ferguson and opinion on racial issues is very sharply split by the party do you worry about the merging of sort of racial and partisan identity you know I don't worry about that because I don't think that's gonna last I worry very much about the immediate consequences of mistrust between police and minority communities I think there are things we can do to train our police force and make that you know everybody's being treated fairly and the task force that I assigned after the Ferguson in New York cases is intended to produce very specific tools for us to to to deal with it but over the long term I'm pretty optimistic and the reason is because this country just becomes more and more of a hodgepodge of folks and at the again this is an example of where things seem very polarized at the national level and media spotlight but you go into communities and one of the great things about being president is you travel through the entire country and you know you go to Tennessee and turns out like you've got this huge Kurdish community hinge and you go to you know some little town in Iowa and you know you see some you know acidic Jewish community and then you see a bunch of interracial you know black and white couples running around with their kids and then this is in these little you know farm communities and you've got you know Latinos in the classroom when you visit the schools there and so people I think are getting more and more comfortable with the diversity of this country much more sophisticated about both the cultural differences but more importantly the the basic commonality that we have and you know the key is to make sure that our politics and our politicians are tapping into that better set impulses rather than our base or fears you know my gut tells me and and I've seen obviously in my own career but I you know you see it generally that a politician who who plays on those fears in America I don't think it's going to over time get a lot of get a lot of traction yeah it's not a perfect analogy but you know if you think about how rapidly the whole issue of the LGBT community and discriminated nation against gays and lesbians has shifted I mean the Republican Party even the most conservative they have much less ability I think to they express discriminatory views than they did even ten years ago and that's a source optimism makes me makes me hopeful on Obamacare something that members of your administration have always said I think that you may have said is there's been a lot of language about it being a good start a platform to begin building it's full of experiments yeah is it there'll be learning and there will be change it's been going now we're in the second year open enrollment right what would you like to see if Congress were able to take up a bill to tweak to improve a change to build on that platform what specifically from either what you wanted in there originally or what we've learned since it's actually been operation how would you like to see it improved well you know I'm not sure Ezra that we've got enough years of it being in place to know perfectly what needs to be improved where there's still gaps you know it's been a year so far the verdict is that this thing is working for a lot of people you've got ten million people who've been enrolled you get more folks who have been signed up for the expanded Medicaid coverage you've seen health care inflation stay low or actually be significantly lower than before the ACA was passed satisfaction when the insurance seems to be high we haven't seen major disruptions in the medical system that that a lot of people had predicted so there's a lot of stuff that's working over time I think seeing if we can do more on delivery system reform making sure that you know we fill the gaps in those states that haven't X and Medicaid I mean the big problem we have right now with Obamacare is that it was designed to make sure that some subset of people qualified for Medicaid and that's how they were gonna get coverage and then others were gonna go into the exchanges because they had slightly higher incomes because of the decision of the Roberts Court that we couldn't incentivize states to expand Medicaid the way we had originally intended you've got a lot of really big states you have tens of millions of people who aren't able to get their Medicaid coverage and so there's this gap and that's probably the biggest challenge for us the good news is that in dribs and drabs much as was true with the original Medicaid program you're starting to see Republican governors and Republican state legislatures realize that yeah we're cutting our nose to spite our face right we got an ideological objection to us helping our own constituencies and our own health care systems and you know to their credit you know you got folks like John Kasich in Ohio and Snyder in Michigan and now most recently a governor up in Alaska and others who were saying you know what there's the right thing to do let's let's go ahead and expand it so until that kind of settles I don't think we'll fully know where there's still gaps in coverage what more we still need to do but I think that so far at least the performance of the plans itself not the website in the first three months but the performance of the actual plans you know has at least met and perhaps exceeded a lot of people's expectations the website by the way works great now I'm gonna tag out and let Matt in but thank you very much taking place are really enjoyable




Comments
  1. If you are tired of the Global drama, that makes us out to be the bad guys.. If you are want to be part of that CHANGE that kicks these Internationalists out of Our Government, and Out of Our Country, now's your chance… I'm running for the 2020, anyone wants to know what I'm about, Google Harold McBroom In Reverence to Thee click on obvious link, when page loads, click on Candidate Harold J. McBroom

  2. WOW! What difference 3 years makes. If you study the numbers, you will see the economy had only marginally gotten better (sorry Vox) by the time of this interview and when Trump was elected, it shot up like a rocket. As of third quarter 2018, quarterly numbers are consistently positive. This is something Obama never enjoyed. His numbers were like a roller coaster and that is never good. Again, sorry Vox but this is horseshit. President Obama was no economist and his numbers bare that out.

  3. Competitors catching up or Liberals dragging America down with low IQ ILLEGALS and a desire to make other countries live as well as America. They whine about carbon emissions AFTER encouraging
    other countries to go to personal cars like America?
    America couldn't burn coal for power yet we had to compete with countries who were building a NEW COAL PLANT every month.
    There was no need to raise the standard of living in other countries when anyone but a fool had to know it was going to hurt Americans.
    The same as encouraging ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION forcing down American wages and adding more costs to American taxpayers.
    Mexico has a $5 A DAY minimum wage, how can American companies compete paying 2 or more times that AN HOUR?
    American workers pay more in taxes and benefits than a Mexican company has to pay their employee in a day.
    NO I am not suggesting you have to be Asian or white but anyone who hasn't even got a high school education, can't speak English and is prepared to pop out an American born child to get American benefits will be one more person holding America back. How many Hispanics have been here for years ILLEGALLY can't speak English and have no desire to? They want to make America Hispanic.
    They leave sh hole countries that are dangerous yet try to CHANGE AMERICA to be like the country they fled.
    When Trump wanted to bring in CANADA STYLE immigration he was branded a racist.
    Canada is praised for it;s MERIT BASED IMMIGRATION, then these same people who praise Canada, attack Trump.

  4. Muslim iNSANE Obama speaks lies and more lies, his life is a lie, only thing is he is a full blooded Muslim from Kenya Africa. The plan was to destroy the USA FROM the inside out. TREASON = DEATH

  5. Wow, nice breath of fresh air. I wish I had taken Obama for granted less. He is truly the most articulate and historically educated in regards to our political system. Kudos to Vox for an incredible interview.

  6. What is this guy saying at 4:47– 5:05
    does it start with "Folks put on doubt long term question…" ???
    Please articulate his question!

  7. A conversation that you leave feeling smarter…. with Trump I feel like I lose words from my vocabulary

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