The notion that President Barack Obama is a socialist is laughable on at least two fronts.

First, such charges are invariably rendered by those who couldn't pick socialism out of a lineup if it were posted on a placard held by Lenin and Marx (not Groucho).

Second, if the president were indeed a socialist, he is an abject failure. The current economic trend that divides America is alarming and unsustainable.

Speaking recently on the economic divide, the president accurately captured the dilemma with the following:

"But we know that people's frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles -- to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It's rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them."

In 2012, according to The New York Times, the top 10 percent received more than 50 percent of the country's income -- unprecedented in U.S. history. This places additional pressure on economic mobility.

As the income ladder lengthens, it becomes more difficult to move upward. Moreover, the disappearance of unionized manufacturing jobs that paid good wages, though a lot of education was not needed, makes the economic climb more challenging.

The current economic response from Washington is a debate to extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage. Extending unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage are good starts; in fact, they are necessary. But they are Band-Aids for a wound that is far more severe.


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I doubt there is momentum to raise the minimum wage so that it alters the 44-year-old trend that has it unable to keep pace with inflation -- a number that some economist suggests would currently stand at $16.50 per hour.

The unemployment rate, which stood at 6.7 percent in December, is a false number because it reflects how many people are out of work but fails to include how many have actually stopped looking for employment.

There is a huge need for physical infrastructure improvement. According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, "Encouraging U.S. Infrastructure Investment," the estimates for modernizing could exceed $2.3 trillion over the next decade for transportation, energy, and water infrastructure. But the public infrastructure investment, which is currently 2.4 percent of GDP, is half what it was 50 years ago.

The Associated Press recently reported that more than 65,000 bridges were classified as "structurally deficient."

Though skepticism remains, some U.S. firms moving their manufacturing operations back to the United States is cause for hope. It remains cheaper to build in China, but wages have risen to a point where additional labor costs by building in the U.S. could be offset by logistical savings.

Should this shift occur in a substantial way it will little matter if there is not a corresponding commitment to invest in the social infrastructure that has Americans ready to assume the new manufacturing possibilities.

Perhaps the most formidable economic challenge facing America is the deep sense of distrust that many Americans have of government. Several decades in the making, it is distrust of government that places a higher value on perceived emotional self-interest than economic concerns.

If the perception is that government regulation translates to losing a local plant, which means loss of jobs, it feeds the narrative that government can't be trusted.

The need for jobs has created desperation for some that not having a safe workplace can feel like a reasonable exchange.

It is easy and cavalier to dismiss this phenomenon as the Faustian bargain of the uniformed. But it accurately reflects the reality of far too many who have been pitted against themselves, aided by unrelated social concerns.

Without bold leadership that alters the existing narrative, our current economic trajectory will most likely remain unobstructed.

Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.