There was no presidential election in 2013, but the year provided America with plenty of stories to care about: The launch of Obamacare, the near-war with Syria over chemical weapons, the Boston Marathon bombings, and many more. Some stories were one-offs; others will ripple forward into the future.
Which story in 2013 might have the most impact going forward? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, debate the issue.
The most consequential story of 2013? Easy: The so-called “fast food strikes” that occurred at restaurants around the country.
Why the most consequential? Because it threw into stark relief a reality that has increasingly concerned both liberals and economists for years: Income inequality is growing in this country, creating a system in which a few wealthy citizens stand absorb all the wealth while the rest of of work harder and harder for ever-diminishing returns.
That inequality has been growing steadily for 40 years, masked to some extent by the rise of a two-working-parent middle class, and then to a greater extent by various bubbles – tech, then housing – that made it appear wealth was growing along with productivity in this country. It wasn’t.
We know that now. We know that in this painfully pitiful recovery, one of the fastest-growing job segments nationally is in fast food. We know that the occupants of those jobs are not, as popular myth would have it, just teens, but plenty of working-age and mid-career adults. These are hard-working people who cannot afford to live on the minimum wage that the fast food restaurants pay them, much less save money to send kids to college, without resorting to public subsidies like food stamps to make ends meet. Which means, yes, that you the taxpayer are already subsidizing the wages of McDonald’s employees.
Over the next few years, how to either accommodate or reverse those trends will be at the center of our politics. Some conservatives have already talked about creating a taxpayer-funded national guaranteed minimum wage so that companies which offer low-paying, low-skill jobs can say competitive with each other without doing anything so rash as spend their own profits to pay a living wage to their workforce.
Many Republicans have spent recent years pretending income inequality doesn’t matter. That answer is no longer viable. Our next debates will be about how to fix it. And 2013 will be seen as the year those debates got under way in earnest.
Tough year, 2013. It’s not easy to pin down just one vital development. The United States Supreme Court’s decisions in June on same-sex marriage will reverberate across the legal, political, and cultural landscapes for years to come. Next up: the fight over religious liberty.
New Yorkers’ decision to elect as their mayor Bill de Blasio, a left-wing populist firebrand, might well have set the stage to undo two decades of work that made one of the most dangerous cities in America into one of the safest.
President Obama signaled the world that U.S. foreign policy could not be taken seriously. If Obama wasn’t prepared to back his words with deeds in Syria, he never should have drawn a “red line” over President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. His blink
But in the end, it would have to be the self-immolation of Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that will be remembered as the most important story of this storied year.
Obamacare’s spectacular flameout had little to do with a website’s failure to launch. The president drew a preposterous red line with health care reform, too. “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period,” he famously said. “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
A few million insurance policy cancellations later, most everyone recognizes the president’s promise was as empty as his threats against Assad.
But enterprise was clearly in trouble when the president in July decided to delay until 2015 enforcement of the law’s employer mandate. That’s the requirement that all employers with more than 50 workers provide health insurance. Many employers had already begun slashing full-time employees’ hours to soften the mandate’s impact.
Now the administration is selectively postponing enforcement of the law’s individual mandate, which has been the cause of so much angst in recent weeks. All of the White House’s delays and ad hoc fixes are mere palliatives. The law itself is fatally flawed. Perhaps Congress can finally repeal it in 2014.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine online. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or www.facebook.com/benandjoel.