Biden's Next Agenda: Anti-monopoly.

AuthorGlastris, Paul
PositionEditor's Note

On the last day of September, David Brooks of The New York Times published one of his "Wow, he sounds like a Democrat" columns that so delight liberals of a certain age. In it, he made an impassioned case for the massive spending bills the Biden administration and congressional Democrats were struggling to advance.

The trillions of dollars in infrastructure and social welfare investments, he noted, would predominantly benefit ordinary, just-scraping-by Americans, many of them in red states and lacking college degrees. These are precisely the people screwed by the decades-long, upward redistribution of income and opportunity benefiting big corporations and educated elites. Because that wealth transfer unleashed a populist fury that has destabilized American democracy, the Democrats would be sending an important moral and cultural message:

These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision. I'd like to think Brooks is right about this. Certainly, the spending would materially improve the lives of downscale Americans. But would the intended message be received?

I'm not so sure. In March, Biden signed the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan, with features like an expanded child tax credit that the Democrats aimed to make permanent in their reconciliation bill this autumn. Yet even though polls suggest that voters, including many Republicans, appreciated the tax credits and other spending, Biden's approval numbers ultimately tanked, even among Democrats. The spending didn't cause the tanking--things like the Delta variant surge and the ugly Afghanistan pullout did. But even with its easy-to-see stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, the American Rescue Plan didn't reposition Biden and congressional Democrats as champions of the common people.

We probably shouldn't have expected it to. Two trillion dollars might seem like a lot of money. But only about half of it will be spent by the end of 2021. That's less than 5 percent of the nation's projected 2021 GDP of $22.74 trillion.

The truth is that even relatively large bumps in federal spending tend not to register with most voters compared to the dynamics of a much larger market economy that they experience daily. Brooks himself basically acknowledged as much:

These measures would not solve our problems, obviously. In many large Western nations, there are...

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