The 2 simple words in Obama's speech

President Barack Obama speaks at Knox College July 24, 2013 in Galesburg, Ill.

Middle out.

President Obama used the phrase only once in his economic speech Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., when calling for “an economy that grows from the middle out, not the top down.” Though explicitly mentioned only once, the philosophy of middle-out economics informed his entire speech, where he promised to “reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades.”

Middle-out economics, currently trendy among Democratic policymakers and liberal think tanks, emphasizes strengthening the middle class as a driver of economic growth for all Americans. Obama used the phrase “middle class” 28 times in his speech. Middle-out thinking stands in opposition to conservative supply-side economics, which emphasizes wealth trickling down to the middle class from the rich.

The president also focused on dealing with the soaring cost of health care and education. Middle-out thinking sees a role for government to help people with both. Obama spoke repeatedly of the growing inequality in America, something middle-out thinkers detest. They believe that income inequality is a drag on the economy’s growth, and there is a growing body of economic research beginning to back up this thinking.

Middle-out thinking informs a lot of what we hear from Democratic politicians these days, but you don’t hear the phrase much outside political circles. That’s because the philosophy currently lacks a catchy slogan or vivid metaphor, the way “rising tide lifts all boats” clearly explains conservative supply-side economic beliefs.

Politicians in both parties speak about helping the middle class. It’s a mantra as mandatory as “support our troops.” But most Republicans don’t buy into the middle-out idea, primarily because it entails an expansive role for government to help lift more of the poor into the middle class.

Middle out is nothing new to President Obama. This is a return visit to Knox College. He addressed graduates in 2005, in his first major speech as a freshman Senator. Back then, he spoke of a government role in shaping an economy where the middle class can thrive. Administration advisers say themes in that graduation speech have remained important to the president ever since, as the nation has endured waves of economic trouble.

Wednesday’s speech kicked off a series of presidential trips and events spotlighting the economy. Expect to hear more middle out economic philosophy reflected in his speeches and policy moves.

What words did President Obama say the most during his speech?

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About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.
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Heard a MarketPlace interview on the radio yesterday afternoon about a truck driver struggling in this Obama Economy. I wished that they had interviewed me. I am truly one of those good examples of Obama's Middle Out strategy. In the last couple of years, I see my situation getting better having a stable job in engineering with a modest $500K 401(k) (started late at a "catch up" plan) that has been growing steadily a couple of thousands a day, thanks to the market. With that rate I can probably retire early in a few years. I am stashing away 25% of my paycheck on top of it so that I can achieve the goal. I have been counting my blessings and can't complain!

The idea of upward mobility in America is a powerful and deeply engrained part of the American Dream. Never was that idea more potent
or more seductive than in mid-century America, when the real Mad men of Madison Ave. cleverly created ad campaigns calculated to sell the American dream to the world and to ourselves. For a look at one such ad campaign that both reinforced and reflected the fairy tale suburban life offering a template to the newly minted middle class please visit " A Blueprint for the Middle Class.

What’s this tricking down I keep hearing about? Seems like I’ve been trickling up for decades.

Imagine a bacteria culture in a Petri dish: Bacterium shouting to one another, “keep busy consuming! keep busy reproducing! Its good for the economy.” Finite Petri dish yields extinction event. Death by busyness, a weapon of mass destruction.

Even if human culture can use busyness better than finite earth at using our sun’s nourishment, stacking ourselves to the moon will probably result in a disastrous orbit.

We need equilibrium, not growth.

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