Yves here. Readers are commenting regularly on what a damp squib Biden is proving to be, despite continuing aggressive press air cover. A fresh example from a fax machine in yesterday’s Links:
In “election ’24” news, Biden has already blown it:
“U.S. President Joe Biden will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build electric vehicles and focus on processing them domestically into battery parts, part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists, two administration officials with direct knowledge told Reuters.”
From October 22nd, 2020:
“Joe Biden’s campaign has privately told U.S. miners it would support boosting domestic production of metals used to make electric vehicles, solar panels and other products crucial to his climate plan, according to three sources familiar with the matter, in a boon for the mining industry.”
I’m not one to make judgements about the future or to attempt to prophesize, however: between this, the refusal to cancel student loans, the refusal to issue the full $2k stimulus checks, the refusal to do M4A, and the growing ICE camps Biden is making a good case to stay home next time. Sanders was right is cliche but he’s been proven right again. Personally, I’d start betting on DeSantis or Cruz.
I agree with Tom that we’re not going to see incremental reforms, save of the cosmetic or marginal kind intended merely to alleviate pressure. The apparent success of the “restore status quo ante as much as possible” response to the Global Financial Crisis and Covid have persuaded the elites and their hangers-on that patch-ups will work just fine. They certainly work extremely well for those in charge.
However, the transformations that Tom describes have hewed to the Hegelian, or alternatively, Structure of Scientific Revolutions model: the old regime is increasingly unworkable, but it persists due to a combination of bad incentives (aka the incumbents believe they have a lot to lose), insufficient imagination, risk aversion, and lack of consensus on what comes next.
Most Westerners think of revolutions or transformations as coming about via organized pressure. In the spirit of the Fredrick Douglass dictum: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” That is certainly the case with the neoliberal counter-revolution. Even in the midst of the disorder and distress of the Great Depression, the threat of Communists and the radicalization of the Congress of Industrial Organizations either pressured or allowed Roosevelt to implement broad-based social safety nets and wide-ranging regulations.
However, the neoliberal project has been extremely successful in indoctrinating citizens in advanced economies to see themselves as atomized, as it has simultaneously weakened labor organizations and involvement in community organizations (too many people are too busy just getting by to have the time and energy). So there’s a dearth of organizations or coalitions applying pressure against the current order to move it in a particular direction. Instead, we have internal rot (corruption, withdrawal in the form of despair-driving coping strategies), various opposing constituencies pulling in different directions, and disaffected individuals and small groups striking out, some out of desperation, others seeing opportunity. With a highly complex society, there are plenty of vulnerable points, as recent ransomware attacks and and the Texas grid failure demonstrate.
In ECONNED, we described one of the possible responses to the crisis as “paradigm breakdown”. That appears to be where we are going. The result is not likely to resemble the transformations Tom describes. Instead, it’s going to be more like the financial crisis, as in a state change where things go chaotic. The closest historical analogue I can think of is the French Revolution, where no one in 1788 would have predicted what unfolded, and how the progress to a new order was halting (the successively more radical waves of the revolution, followed by Napoleon’s Consulate and the creation of a new aristocracy, the First Empire, the Restoration, the Second Republic, the Second Empire). It took nearly 100 years for a durable regime based on democratic principles to take hold, in the form of the Third Republic.
The irony here is that as the sense of disorder increases (mind you, perceptions can run well ahead of reality), it would become more possible for a strong leader to mold opinion. But America has been doing a poor job of cultivating individuals with true vision and executive ability, as opposed to poseurs.
And it is more common in times of economic stress for political sentiment to move right. So if any leader unexpectedly emerges, Napoleon-style, he is likely to be cut from authoritarian cloth.
And with the Jackpot coming, we don’t have 100 years to stumble to a new system of governance.
By Thomas Neuberger. Originally published at God’s Spies
One of the loudest arguments on the left is over the value of incremental change, often framed as “incrementalism versus wholesale transformation.”
Keep in mind that there are degrees to each of these sides; this is not a classic either-or dichotomy. Incremental social and political change can be absolutely glacial, spanning centuries (women’s rights is a good example; that took millennia), or relatively quick, spanning just a generation or two (marijuana legalization has taken this path).
And transformation can be slow, like the half-decade it took to convert Tsarist Russia militarily into the Soviet Union — or remarkably sudden, like the week it took to depose the Tsar and establish a non-Tsarist state (the February Revolution), or the half-year it took for Lenin to take over the apparatus of that new state (the November Revolution).
But we can still distinguish them. One feature of incremental change is that it’s not that upsetting based on what most people want, while transformational challenges to the status quo tend to be much more resisted and turbulent.
The sexual revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, for example, was transformational, but once that change occurred, the slower change into a society in which unmarried couples, for example, could live together without a heavy application of shame was not that upsetting to most people, and it took very few years for the “scandal” of braless women to spawn highly popular TV shows like Charlie’s Angels.
This is why marijuana reform, which seems to be happening suddenly these days, is actually incremental. The real transformation occurred in those same Sixties and Seventies, when a great many young people suddenly started using it, and openly. The incrementalism occurred during a much longer wearing-down period, during which small but powerful revanchist political forces managed for two generations to delay legislation that most people had come quickly to fully support.
Which brings us to Joe Biden and his supposed FDR tendencies. It’s clear that FDR, in a few short months, passed transformative legislation and in a few short years transformed America itself. The modern regulatory state was born during that administration, and though it has been reduced — again, by revanchist political and economic forces — it hasn’t (yet) been dismantled.
Will Joe Biden do the same as FDR? The answer is clear: Absolutely not.
Give Medicare To All of Us
Here’s what a real transformational president would and could do in his first year in office.
To start, Biden could use existing authority to give everyone who became infected with Covid-19 immediate and permanent access to Medicare, just as the government did for the people of Libby, Montana:
The people of Libby, Montana, population 2,628, share something in common with the rest of the developed world, but not their compatriots in the United States. They all have access to a single-payer, Medicare-for-All system.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, the residents of Libby, who were exposed to hazardous airborne asbestos from a vermiculite mine owned by the W.R. Grace Company, were made eligible for Medicare, for free, at the discretion of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It was codified in Section 1881A of the Social Security Act. The language of the statute refers to any individuals subject to an “environmental exposure,” though it was well understood at the time that this was about Libby. …
There’s an environmental health hazard spreading through the entire country right now. It’s infecting people unsuspectingly and killing hundreds of thousands. It’s bound to saddle those who survive with long-term and potentially debilitating health consequences. And using Section 1881A, the incoming Biden administration can give all 11 million people infected with COVID—and if they want to be really aggressive—all Americans who have tested positive for coronavirus the option of free Medicare coverage, immediately. [emphasis added]
He could even use that same legislation — Section 1881A — to give Medicare to everyone in the country, whether infected or not:
(b) Pilot Program for Care of Certain Individuals Residing in Emergency Declaration Areas.—
(1) Program; purpose.—
(A) Primary pilot program.—The Secretary shall establish a pilot program in accordance with this subsection to provide innovative approaches to furnishing comprehensive, coordinated, and cost-effective care under this title to individuals described in paragraph (2)(A).
(B) Optional pilot programs.—The Secretary may establish a separate pilot program, in accordance with this subsection, with respect to each geographic area subject to an emergency declaration (other than the declaration of June 17, 2009), in order to furnish such comprehensive, coordinated and cost-effective care to individuals described in subparagraph (2)(B) who reside in each such area. […]
This allows HHS Secretary to establish a “pilot program” — which could be Medicare access — for anyone described below.
Who would be eligible for this “pilot program”? Anyone in the “geographic area subject to an emergency declaration” and who is an “an environmental exposure affected individual.” That’s everyone in the U.S., thanks to Trump’s Covid emergency declaration.
Section 1881A continues:
(2) Individual described.—For purposes of paragraph (1), an individual described in this paragraph is an individual who enrolls in part B, submits to the Secretary an application to participate in the applicable pilot program under this subsection, and—
(A) is an environmental exposure affected individual described in subsection (e)(2) who resides in or around the geographic area subject to an emergency declaration made as of June 17, 2009; or
(B) is an environmental exposure affected individual described in subsection (e)(3) who—
(i) is deemed under subsection (a)(2); and
(ii) meets such other criteria or conditions for participation in a pilot program under paragraph (1)(B) as the Secretary specifies.
This could easily apply to every living American. Doing that — giving Medicare to all — would be truly transformational. And once done, it would be impossible to undo. No one after him would dare to take it away.
Which is why Joe Biden will never let it happen.
But Wait, There’s More
Biden’s transformational opportunities don’t end there. The American Prospect in their Day One Agenda project (all praise and honor to them for doing it) published a list of 277 other transformational changes that the Biden administration could have done immediately under existing authority:
We found 277 policies that can be enacted through executive branch powers in the Biden-Sanders unity task force document.
48 of the policies, or 17 percent, are rollbacks of Trump-era policy changes.
Immigration (78 policies), Climate Change (54 policies), and the Economy (54 policies) have the most potential executive actions.
These actions include, but aren’t limited to:
- Immediately removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
- Immediately and aggressively using presidential pardon and clemency powers to redress the harm done by over-aggressive policing and sentencing for non-violent crimes — including grants of immediately clemency for non-violent drug offenders.
- Creating a clear federal standard on use of police force.
- Imposing “rigorous oversight” on “big corporations” using federal COVID-19 relief programs, to ensure that the funds are used to keep workers on payroll rather than enrich executives or shareholders.
- Issuing an infectious-disease workplace safety standard via OSHA.
- Directing EPA and DOJ to pursue and prosecute pollution cases to the fullest extent possible under law.
I would also add, Biden could make permanent its temporary ban on new oil and gas leases on federal land:
The U.S. Interior Department is cancelling oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June amid an ongoing review of how the program contributes to climate change, officials said Wednesday.
The action does not affect existing leases, and the agency has continued to issue new drilling permits during the open-ended review ordered by the White House, said Nada Culver, deputy director of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
And while we’re at it, let’s cancel all federally held student debt, which is most of it. See “Possible methods of government-financed student debt cancellation” on page 19 of this Levy Institute paper (pdf) for authority and methodology.
There are literally hundreds of things like these that a truly transformational Biden could do, but our non-transformational president will not.
Why Transformation Is Needed
Yes, Biden is proving to be more an agent of (some) change than anyone expected. But is that good enough? Ask yourself if the nation can continue on an incrementally adjusted version its current course for another thirty years.
Will Trump-fed anger and Sanders-supporting discontent wait long enough for the lives of the lower 90% — prey to the super-rich — to finally improve? Most lives haven’t improved since Clinton was president. How long before something happens that isn’t contained within electoral boundaries? Or maybe I should ask, “How long before else happens?” — keeping in mind the discontent that led to the Capitol riot.
Among the starkest findings in the report is that 43% of Michigan residents don’t make enough to afford the basic cost of living. That could be costs like food, shelter, transportation, communication, and child care. #PoorPeoplesCampaign 43% of Michiganders are too poor to afford basic living costs, a state poverty report foundOn Wednesday, a task force commissioned in 2019 to study poverty in Michigan made 35 recommendations about how to reduce inequality across the state.fox2detroit.com
Will racial justice warriors continue to put up with an endless stream of proud-boy killer cops murdering with impunity the black, brown and poor, even if a tiny minority somehow get convicted? Or will someone, starved of judicial justice, strike back extra-judicially, avenging the extra-judicial murders their loved ones endured?
And finally, when will the climate crisis drown us all?
We know it’s coming, all of us do. We’re just hoping it happens in the next generation. But what if it happens in this generation? It will, according to the authors of this recent analysis. As one commenter sums up the report:
- 1.5°C global average temperature increase will occur around 2030, a decade ahead of IPCC projections, regardless of any action taken in the interim.
- 2°C is likely prior to 2050.
- 3°C is likely early-to-midway through the 2nd half of the century.
- “Hothouse Earth” — non-linear, irreversible, self-sustaining warming — may be triggered between 1.5 – 2.0°C.
- Current global warming, 1.3°C in 2020, is already dangerous. 2°C would be extremely dangerous. 3°C would be catastrophic.
In a true climate-chaos situation, filled with increasingly costly, unfixable, implacable catastrophes, do you imagine the United States will maintain territorial integrity? Or will our government, owned by the very rich, abandon its unliftable burden and let the nation, county by county, go feral?
Where’s the room for incrementalism in that, even from the most reformed of corrupt politicians? Answer: There’s no room at all.
We’re going to get transformation, one way or another. The only question is, will we control it or will it control us?
“Nothing will fundamentally change.” – the only campaign promise Quid Pro Joe intended to keep.
Every action of the “Biden-Harris” administration has shown they are not interested in policy, just keeping the grift going. The excuses, ie: the Senate Parliamentarian… . The cabinet picks because people are policy, ie Obama retreads and Clintoon (not a typo) Land toadies, and recycling Tanden.
The Dems (barring a miracle) are doomed in the mid-terms, yet instead of doing anything useful are banging the “Jan 6” drum.
So, how is that lesser evil voting working out for you? How about pushing Joe left? Its mostly performance theatre, got dome Kente cloth I can borrow?
The Dems put more effort into shafting Sanders than into governing. So…
This is a good occasion to plug a text from N.N. Taleb about blocking minorities.
It goes a long way in explaining why politicians and economists get things so wrong.
I can confirm the theory, as I experienced it first hand. Back in the days, our company was reselling HP hardware, and around 2007, we had two catalogs: one was standard issue, for any customer outside the EU, the other was a catalog with RoHS-compliant equipment for the EU, and was about 10-15% more expensive.
One year later, only the RoHS catalog remained, and our company was reselling RoHS-compliant stuff worldwide.
I was reminded about that Taleb essay a couple of weeks ago reading a complaint by a vegetarian that its so difficult to get good vegetarian food in restaurants anymore. The growth in veganism has meant that nearly all restaurants now offer very good vegan dishes, but its at the expense of those non-meat eaters who like a little goats cheese in their salads or parmesan in their pesto.
Yup, its one thing people on the left never seem to grasp about politics – the importance of small, strategic minorities and their ability to influence policy. Its why, for example, Japanese or EU policy is so heavily influenced by a small number of farmers or fishermen, way out of proportion of the size of those sectors. I’ve seen this in Ireland, where fear mongering among small sectors of rural dwellers has been used to stymie what should otherwise be popular and sensible environmental policies.
Isn’t parmesan cheese a sine qua non of pesto sauce? If I mix basil and pine nuts together, it doesn’t become pesto sauce until I add parmesan cheese and olive oil. I suppose the phrase “vegan pesto” would imply basil + pine nuts + olive oil, but I seldom see that phrase.
By the way, I know exactly what kind of flavor pine nuts adds to pesto, and far too many restaurants omit the pine nuts, substituting some sort of thickener to make a pasty sauce.
Paging Naked Capitalism member Basil Pesto. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.
Vegan pesto is basil + pine nuts + olive oil + nutritional yeast, the yeast providing an umami flavor very similar to parmesan.
I know it was stated by some of those on the extreme left, many of whom may not have a clear path or workable ideas on how to resolve the current crises, but there was an uncomfortable truth to the saying “Sanders was the compromise”.
Now the US will reap the whirlwind, and perhaps by extension, the world.
While in IHMO Joe is a breath of fresh air especially when compared to our deposed Dear Leader, it is a little much to suppose that Joe will be a transitional leader. He has spent most of his working life in Congress where the long view of working within the status quo is to be expected.
And perhaps that is a good thing when compared to the Dear Leader.
The status quo is a moment in time, and Biden wasn’t a defender of the status quo but a corporate front man who rolled the clock back. Fantasies about Biden knowing how to work within the system are just that fantasies.
About the only ting he ever did was to go out of the system and to claim Obama supported gay marriage. The White House gripe about Biden for 3 days before making a statement about states’ rights.
While it may be a “good thing when compared to the Dear Leader”, I think the point of the essay is that it is not nearly enough given the coming climate catastrophe and steadily worsening economic inequality. We will soon be welcoming the next Dear Leader unless the Dems can actually address some of these problems (which they won’t). The time for kicking the can down the road is just about over.
During the democratic primary, after Bernie won some of the early primaries, the establishment circled the wagons. Editorial in WaPo, the NYT etc. presents cascade of reasons why Bernie’s policies were too radical for the American people and overnight support was shifted to Biden who promised no substantial change. He was promoted to safeguard the system. You reap what you sow. The irony with the claims that Biden is a transformational president like FDR is that Bernie was much closer to FDR and the establishment rejected him.
In Opposite World you claim Biden is the new FDR precisely because he is nothing like FDR. Of course all those years of pushing Trump as the new satan require the press to pretend that Trump was defeated by our new savior instead of a somewhat less abrasive version of same. These PR games do get old and likely only convince the true believers.
FDR did have the advantage of a country far more desperate for change and much more hostile to a rogue financial sector.
Nit to pick: I would argue that the regulatory state has been de-facto dismantled already.
SEC, Fed, etc.
There may be a counter-example of a still-functioning regulatory agency, somewhere, I just can’t think of one at the moment.
So Biden could be “transformational” simply by using the power of personnel to fire agency heads and return them to their original mission. Ending the revolving door and such.
Sigh, I have no hope this will happen.
With regard to the almost-certain-to-come global catastrophe of anthropogenic (which, to me, is primarily capitalistgenic) planetary heating, I think we should all take a moment to remember some of those who helped bring this sorry state of affairs about while they’re still alive to be acknowledged proper “credit”.
To that end, we can “party like it’s 1999” and recall the cosmic idiocy of Thomas Friedman with this classic, “The Datsun & the Shoe Tree”:
If Biden/Harris do get a “Pre Crime” department established at DHS and manage to pass a “Domestic Terrorism” Bill he may well become a transformative president.
History moves slowly…then suddenly.
It makes a mockery of our short lifespan. Carpe diem.
Interesting article, including the introduction by Yves. It brings to mind Lenin’s comment “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” However I have a problem with the expression “transformational”. I think Mr. Neuberger makes it mean too much and doesn’t link it to economic interests.
To me eliminating punishment for the use of cannabis is not “transformational”. Certainly it is absurd that alcohol is legal yet cannabis isn’t. It is now well understood that the extreme anti-cannabis actions by the authorities were initiated by the Nixon administration as a way to suppress dissent. That was its purpose and I think it worked pretty well. Certainly millions of people have suffered from it so getting rid of this absurdity would improve many people’s lives. However from the perspective of our overlords other ways have been found to make dissent ineffective (extreme identity politics, control of MSM messaging, etc.) so cannabis suppression is not needed any more. With respect to transformation, treating cannabis as alcohol does not disturb significant existing business interests except some pain killer manufacturers at the margins so nothing economic is transformed.
However Medicare for all would be transformational in that it would expand human rights for most US-ians and be a direct attack on the businesses that make up nearly 18 percent of US GDP. If health spending declined to the highest level of other developed countries spending would drop by 7 percentage points of GDP AND cover everyone instead of leaving about one third of the population without access to healthcare. $1.5 trillion would no longer go to healthcare. That’s something worth fighting over if you’re going to lose it.
As an aside I do find it remarkable how difficult it is to get even small yet hugely helpful changes adopted (e.g. cannabis above). Childcare is an example. It would be good for families, workers, women and employers. In Canada where I live there are no significant business interests that sell childcare. Yet only the province of Quebec has been able to set up a system based on local parental control and government funding. My children went through it 30 years ago and it is brilliant. It does seem our federal government is about to fund a Canada-wide system but it has disappointed us before.
I dunno, Biden will transform goodthink liberals into sheepishly supporting carryover Trump policies, because at least Biden isn’t Trump, which somehow makes it worse.
This is hilarious. Transformational indeed. Biden has an incredible gift for making people shovel garbage into their mouths and announce that it’s delicacy.
Most of Biden’s power to act independent of a shaky congressional majority lies in the realm of foreign policy.
If he had wanted to he could have already withdrawn troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. He could have forced an immediate end to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen with one phone call to MBS. He could have lifted the siege sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba, and had a renewal of the JCPOA with Iran. He could have objected to the new Space Force and instead proposed a new treaty banning such militarization of space with China and Russia. He could have also endorsed a similar treaty proposed by Putin to ban certain types of cyber attacks against other countries infrastructure. Instead he’s kept faith with Trump by leaving all this in place.
But at least the mean tweets have stopped.
The trends in answers to demands for best practices have turned to “We have to keep our options open.” “There is no other option than that which we approve.” That is why your option was previously marked off as a real option, too real to be discussed.
Wherever you are the best land has already been taken.
You don’t really either now need a purple I Phone.
The transformational leader whose vision will work making sure
we have food clothing shelter besides every other ambition of the
Civilized nationstates was most realized by FDR. I recognize that it
is the FDR America I thought I had when I was growing up.
The pattern of the Democrats has been to speak of ideals we intend to
spend our money on but allow for the options of defeat.
When you are a baseball player & your team gets beat you don’t have
to support the team that beat you. Politics are different. “Of course I’ll
support her.” Says Sanders.
The re-arranging of the deck chairs on Biden’s Titanic will continue until all the icebergs melt.
FDR he is not, but Obama 2.0 is delivering everything he promised, and less.
“And with the Jackpot coming, we don’t have 100 years to stumble to a new system of governance.”
Yves, I’ve seldom read a more pregnant sentence than this. Any elaboration on what you think this Jackpot might be and what might trigger it would be greatly welcome. Per the maxim “only a fool tries to time the market” I won’t ask the “when” question but I definitely would love to read your thoughts on What and How.
The Jackpot is lifted from William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It’s a 40 year period that starts in about 2027 where everything goes to hell: disease, species dieoffs, wars. 80% of animals and humans perish, and the only reason the number isn’t higher is great scientific breakthroughs. Per Gibson, the Jackpot is a relatively happy outcome given the givens.
Lambert and I referred to the Jackpot multiple times; Lambert did a full blown writeup. Key section:
The US political system (Three Branches) is designed to be incrementalist. The only branch that is truly democratic is the House members (which must constantly run for reelection every two years). They are mostly white guys with white interests.
The Senate is wholly undemocratic since each state (with unequal population) gets two Senators (votes). These “elites” get to advise and consent (select) on members of the Executive branch and the federal courts. Most importantly SC judges.
The two-party political system also tamps down change by seeking the “middle ground”.
Folks, we will ride this pony into oblivion.
How did we get here?
We need to look at the big picture.
Economics, the time line:
Classical economics – observations and deductions from the world of small state, unregulated capitalism around them
Neoclassical economics – Where did that come from?
Keynesian economics – observations, deductions and fixes for the problems of neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics – Why is that back again?
We thought small state, unregulated capitalism was something that it wasn’t as our ideas came from neoclassical economics, which has little connection with classical economics.
On bringing it back again, we had lost everything that had been learned in the 1930s and 1940s, by which time it had already demonstrated its flaws.
Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what the capital accumulation of neoclassical economics did to the US economy in the 1920s.
“a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”
This is what it’s supposed to be like.
A few people have all the money and everyone else gets by on debt.
This is why Keynes added redistribution to the system.
It stopped all the wealth concentrating at the top and gave rise to a strong healthy middle class.
Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn’s Keynesian economics is actually more advanced than what we are using now.
We have memories of the Keynesian past, and so this looks old.
We don’t remember when we used neoclassical economics before.
It’s so old, it could be repackaged and presented as something new
What did go wrong with Keynesian economics?
After a few decades of Keynesian, demand side economics, the system became supply side constrained.
Too much demand and not enough supply causes inflation.
Neoclassical, supply side economics should be just the ticket to get things moving again.
It does, but it’s got the same problems it’s always had.