President Obama has cultivated a reputation for approaching politics with a kind of medical clinicism. He is philosophical rather than action-oriented; cold, not bold. It is a reputation that dogged him even in his earliest days on the campaign trail, back when he was running far behind his future secretary of state in the Democratic Primary.
But with the full panorama of his presidency coming into view, Obama’s economic legacy is impressive, even historic. To extend the medical metaphor, Obama has played the part of stoic surgeon in the E.R. His demeanor is rarely anything but placid. But with the operations drawing to a close, the body politic, once in critical condition, has dramatically improved thanks to several targeted interventions.
A new examination from the Council of Economic Advisers credits the Obama presidency for the most aggressive and successful attempt to reduce inequality in half a century. “President Obama has overseen the largest increase in federal investment to reduce inequality since the Great Society,” the economists write.
One might immediately think to dismiss such a report as shameless self-promotion from the White House. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reached the exact same conclusion in June. It found that the federal government is doing more to reduce inequality right now than any time on record, going back at least 35 years. The gap between the rich and poor is as wide as ever judging by before-tax income (e.g., wages and capital gains). But judging by after-tax income, the CBO found that income inequality is no higher than it was in 2000, and Obama’s policies have done more to reduce inequality in the last few years than any other time on record.*