Tyler Cowen: Is Biden’s economic plan really a good idea?
If the biggest news is what we don’t talk about, then my candidate for the most overlooked history would be President Joe Biden’s plan for $ 3.5 trillion in new government spending. Crazy as my guess may sound, given all that has to do with Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little political debate on this subject, and remarkably few attempts to persuade the American public that this spending is. a good idea.
It’s not just that no one yet knows what exactly will be in the bill (s), which appear to be a combined effort by the White House and Congressional Democrats. It is because the class of American intellectuals and experts do not pay their full attention to it. There has been a more heated debate about AOC’s “Tax the Rich” dress.
My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: “With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to pass a huge child tax credit or to oblige end the use of fossil fuels within a decade. Instead, what we’re reading is that if you’re on the blue team you want the count to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are expecting something less.
Democrats say they could consider a carbon tax to fund their spending plans and also to fight climate change. You might have expected this news to make headlines every day and be a dominant topic on Twitter and Substack. Isn’t the fate of the planet at stake, or perhaps an economic depression, depending on your perspective?
There was a long and well-done article in the Washington Post about the political risks associated with this plan. It appeared on page A21 of the print edition.
A permanent extension of the child tax credit could cost $ 1 trillion and change many lives, for better or for worse. The proposal has been the subject of some debate, but America – and its intellectuals – hardly seems obsessed with the subject. Paul Krugman’s latest column in The New York Times promotes the Biden program more on the basis of its political feasibility than its intrinsic desirability.
The Biden administration also has a “free college” plan, which would require a significant increase in spending from many state governments. I am a university professor and I hang out with many other university professors. However, this proposal has not once resumed our conversations.
The contrast with earlier but still recent eras is evident. As recently as Barack Obama’s presidency, there was vigorous political debate on just about every proposal. An $ 800 billion fiscal stimulus? This one has been chopped up for months, with detailed analyzes of the multiplier, liquidity trap, and marginal propensity to consume, coming from all angles. Then there was Obamacare, which has led to even more passionate and detailed debate over the years. Who didn’t have an opinion on the “Cadillac tax” or on the right size of the warrant penalty?
It’s hard to find a comparable implication with the terms of the new $ 3.5 trillion spending project, or even part of it.
Admittedly, the debaters of ten years ago did not always seek to change their opponents’ minds. Most often they addressed those who were not convinced or gave their own talking points. And some of these debates certainly had a performative aspect. But at least the technocratic political debate was seen as the appropriate arena for such a performance to occur.
Even outside of economic policy, the relative absence of structured debate is striking. Texas’ recent law restricting abortion may lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and sets up a very controversial private bonus system for the app. It certainly got a lot of attention. Yet just a few years ago, I would have expected this story to dominate the news every day for months. In my rather obsessive media regime, this is just one story among many.
What should we do with all of this?
One possibility is that the in-depth conversations take place on private channels, such as WhatsApp, or in person. This leaves the public sphere with a relatively empty shell. Another, even more depressing possibility is that the main debate is now about political power and tactics, rather than politics per se. Disputes over symbols are more common than substantive disagreements, and the influence of various interest groups matters more than the strength of any argument.
My proof of all this is perhaps only anecdotal. But I am afraid that he will herald broader and very negative political tendencies. Is America now more a politics of force than a republic of ideas?
Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the Marginal Revolution blog. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero”. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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