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In the recent ‘I believe’ campaign ad, President Obama talks to camera;

“I believe that the way you grow the economy is from the middle out. I believe in fighting for the middle class because if they’re prospering all of us will prosper. That’s the idea of America and that’s why America is the greatest nation on earth.”

What does grow the economy “from the middle out” exactly mean? Does it mean to let start the economy growing from the middle class, and extend its benefits to other (upper and lower) classes,’ or it only refers to the middle?

If we omit ‘out,’ from the line, does it ruin the whole sentence? What is the significance of having ‘out’ in this context?

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I believe you’ll find that out is here equivalent to outwards. It specifies the target direction of the growth, which is to start from the middle, then move outwards from there. I’m leaving this in a comment, not an answer, because I wanted to say just how deeply impressed I am by your estimable efforts to understand English as a Japanese septuagenarian. I seldom see such diligence in native speakers even a quarter your age. I am glad to help. –  tchrist Jul 28 '12 at 22:39
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The phrase “from the middle out” means to start the economic growth in the middle class and let it expand outward to the upper and lower classes. It definitely does not mean only the middle class.

Omitting the word "out" does not change the meaning much because the word "from" implies that the growth will go elsewhere. However it does change the sentence.

The word "out" specifies where the growth will go to -- from the middle class out to the other classes. We know the growth is going somewhere because of the word "from". The word "out" tells us where. The word "out" here I believe would be better replaced with the word "outward".

The word could be considered redundant because it specifies something we already know. However, I think he is using it to drive his point home that although he will grow the economy of the middle class, the growth will spread to the other two classes rather than to just one.

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May I suggest that here out is equivalent to outwards? –  tchrist Jul 28 '12 at 22:37
By adding the out, it makes sure we know it is meant to go both directions from the middle instead of only upwards to the upper class or downwards to the lower class, but rather to grow in both directions at once. –  tchrist Jul 28 '12 at 22:45
My thoughts exactly. –  American Luke Jul 28 '12 at 22:48
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Oishi-san, your first thought is correct. Obama is trying to contrast his approach with the Republican view that the economy should grow from the top down — i.e., that the wealthy, "job-creator" class is the author of all the prosperity in America. That view, when Reagan's people espoused it, was called "trickle-down" economics.

Obama's view is that without a strong, prosperous middle-class in America we are a nation of rich and poor.

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Robust-san. ‘From middle out’ reminds me of Deng Xiaoping’s 先富主義 – make the rich richer first, and then let trickle its effects over to the middle and poor, that Deng advocated in 1990s. Mr. Obama’s economic policy can be translated as 先中主義, though I’m not sure of whether this makes sense at all in Chinese language. –  Yoichi Oishi Jul 28 '12 at 23:49
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protected by RegDwigнt Aug 6 '12 at 13:30

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