During a conversation about poverty, President Obama said he was concerned that more wealthy people were separated from poverty because they chose to frequent private institutions instead of public ones.
“Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, away from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments,” he explained during a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University today.
Obama criticized the free-market system in America for allowing higher concentrations of wealth to exist among the rich while the bottom percentage was being left behind and receiving a smaller portion of that wealth.
“Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, – luckier – having greater advantages are withdrawing from the commons,” he said. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
That led fewer people to care about public institutions, Obama explained, leading to government cuts to important public functions – making the nation less equal.
Obama insisted that there needed to be more investments in public schools, public universities, public early child education and public infrastructure, insisting that funding these organizations both “grows our economy and spreads it around.”
In the past, Obama explained, these economic barriers existed for people of color, but he warned that the growing economic inequality was slowly creeping into the lifestyle of the middle class.
“What used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation and this great sorting that’s taking place,” he explained.
The growing class and racial segregation in America, he explained, affected the political will for people to spend taxpayer money on public institutions, he insisted.
“There’s some communities where I don’t know — not only do I not know poor people, I don’t even know people who have trouble paying the bills at the end of the month. I just don’t know those people. And so there’s a less sense of investment in those children,” he said.
The solution, Obama explained, was for politicians to make their budgets reflect the importance of public institutions and to spend more money for improvements.
“We shouldn’t pretend that somehow we have been making those same investments. We haven’t been,” he added. “And there’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”