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Education, Economy And Minimum Wage With Roger Altman And Sen. Ron Johnson

Jason Cunningham

Roger Altman, former Deputy Treasury Secretary and founder and chairman of Evercore Partners (NYSE: EVR) recently appeared on Bloomberg Television with anchor Betty Liu and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) of the Senate Budget Committee (among others) where they discussed issues in the economy, including education and the desire from many progressives to raise the minimum wage.

Altman responded to an op-ed Mort Zuckerman wrote early last week in the Wall Street Journal in which Zuckerman argues income inequality reflects a lousy economic recovery, and would best be addressed through more and better jobs which would come from better education policies. Zuckerman blamed government for the bad economy saying, "Government is perpetually establishing economic policies and rules that business perceives as overregulation, dampening the willingness to invest.”

Altman disagrees.

Education Is Key

“I don't think that excess of regulation is one of the two or three biggest problems facing the US economy now. I mean at the margin you can debate any particular regulation and so forth. There's been a huge increase obviously in regulation in the health care sector and in the banking sector in the last few years. But fundamentally he was right on the central point he made in the piece,” said Altman.

Altman believes that the “key to restoring good quality middle class jobs” is improving education. “Higher high school graduation rates and quality high school and higher college graduation rates. Remarkably, since about 2004, graduation rates at both the high school level and the college level have increased meaningfully in this country,” said Altman.

Altman noted the issue's urgency, and cited “a cumulative effect of 15 or 20 years or public school reform and other reforms which are producing this good impact,” as a reason to keep moving forward with reforms. “Let's remember the federal role in education is minor…Most education occurs and is paid for…at the state and local level."

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Sen. Johnson: Higher Minimum Wage Is Anti-Success

One Democratic proposal to immediately raise American living standards is raising the national minimum wage to $10.10. Sen. Johnson rejected the idea as harmful.

“Well it would reduce the number of jobs available to those people on the bottom of the economic ladder and it would deprive them of that bottom rung,” said Johnson. Johnson attempted to highlight an anti-success agenda that he sees being pushed against businesses in the United States, but Altman framed the argument in a historical context, noting that it's dwarfed by other periods.

Altman: Today's Inequality Debate Historically Tame

“If you study for example, the history of populism in America, we've had moments of much greater populism, much greater anti-wealth, anti-success. If you think back for example to some of the comments that Theodore Roosevelt made, some of the comments that Franklin Roosevelt made. They make today's debate look small,” said Altman. “So I don't happen to like the debate, but it's not a new debate, and it's not the worst time we've ever had on this issue in the United States, far from it. This is rather the American way. Periodically we have this discussion.

“I don't think, most people in my view, don't mind that there's great success and a lot of wealth being created. What they're focused on, as I mentioned earlier, is getting incomes, the fallen incomes reversed and beginning to create again, good quality middle class jobs. And if the 1 percent happen to be doing very well, that's fine,” said Altman.  Jason Cunningham had no position with the mentioned entities while writing this article. Visit Jason on Twitter at @JasonCunningham and @Benzinga.

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