Over four hours of debate among what felt like a thousand Democratic candidates, a few notable topics scarcely came up. There was no heated tussle over jobs plans. No argument over how to set the national debt on a better path, and no proposals to balance the budget or change the country’s entitlement structure. There was less discussion of getting work to America’s forgotten communities than in the last election cycle.
The debate on The Economy has become a debate on the economy: not so much about taxes and jobs and growth and debt, but about corporate power, student loans, the wage structure, industrial policy, the cost of living, the relative tax burden, and so on.
Consider when Senator Kamala Harris of California took on President Donald Trump’s handling of the country’s growth. “This president walks around talking about and flouting his great economy, right? My great economy,” she said. “You ask him, ‘How are you measuring the greatness of this economy of yours?’ and they point to the jobless numbers and the unemployment numbers. Well, yeah, people in America are working. They’re working two and three jobs.”
Harris’s desire to drill down, to go to the yes-buts and the sure-but-stills, was not surprising: The economy is as good as it has been since the late 1990s, and is arguably better than it was back then. The unemployment rate has not been this low since the late 1960s. Wage inequality continues to be a defining quality of the American economy, but even so, median wages are rising, and the bottom half of the income distribution is doing better.