Biden is betting that boldness is better than moderation

Biden is betting that boldness is better than moderation

Ronald Brownstein writes:

Some of the changes are obvious: Compared with the economic strategies of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Joe Biden is proposing more new spending and more new taxes than either of his Democratic predecessors, and he’s abandoned their support for negotiating new free-trade agreements.

But Biden is also diverging from his predecessors’ approaches in ways that have drawn much less attention—yet may prove even more consequential. Particularly on racial-, gender-, and class-inequality issues, Biden’s separation from those past presidents reflects both an evolution in thinking among Democratic-leaning economists and a bet that boldness may be a better political strategy than moderation.

The effect is that the Biden administration’s analysis of the economy is converging with that of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, which felt largely excluded in the Clinton years and only slightly more welcome during the Obama presidency. “There’s a huge change, really quite dramatic,” says Robert Reich, who served as Clinton’s labor secretary but later became a leading liberal critic of the party’s centrist wing. “There’s a much closer continuity between Clinton and Obama than between even Obama and Biden.”

This shift is evident in Biden’s hiring: He’s largely sidelined the kind of Wall Street–connected centrists that his predecessors installed in key economic positions (think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner). Instead, he’s mostly elevated individuals who either clashed with previous administrations (such as the Council of Economic Advisers members Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein), or are part of a new generation that’s more explicitly focused on questions of race and gender (such as Janelle Jones, the Labor Department’s chief economist, and Joelle Gamble at the National Economic Council).

But the split from past Democratic presidents is also evident in the White House’s bedrock beliefs. Both of the earlier administrations tended to view widening inequality as a kind of natural phenomenon—the inevitable result of structural changes in the economy, led by greater automation and more global economic competition. The Biden team views inequality much more as something molded by human hands—the result of policies that have weakened workers and strengthened corporations’ marketplace leverage. To a greater degree than Obama’s and especially Clinton’s teams, it believes that generating widely shared prosperity isn’t possible without aggressive government intervention. [Continue reading…]

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