You may recall how in 2013 — and then again in 2015 — President Obama tried to give his economic vision a snazzy name, something to compete with “trickle-down economics” in terms of memorability and pith. What he came up with, and has stuck with since, is “middle-out economics,” or sometimes “middle-class economics,” which is supposed to communicate his and the Democratic Party’s commitment to seeing the middle class — and not the 1 percent — as the true fount of economic growth.
But although Obama and other Democrats are evidently happy enough with the branding, the actual policy approach that defines a middle-out economics has remained somewhat fuzzy. And that’s where “Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work without a Strong Middle Class,” the new book from the Center for American Progress’s David Madland, steps in. While politicians’ focus on the middle class can sometimes feel like empty pandering, Madland’s book makes a strong and clear argument that an economy geared around the middle class is not only more in keeping with democratic and liberal norms, but it’s simply better economics, too.
Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Madland about his book, inequality, and what he sees as the right economic agenda for liberalism in the 21st century. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
When did you start thinking about a strong middle class as not only a good thing unto itself but as a necessary component of keeping the U.S. economy healthy?
It actually started way back when I was in high school.