The political economy of Bidenism

There’s an excellent piece in the NLR by Cedric Durand putting Biden’s apparent left turn into historical context. My initial assumption was that Biden was doing what Starmer promised to do i.e. rebuilding his party by brokering a coalition between the left and the centre, built around the most popular policies of the left and the political efficacy of a united party. However while these internal party management considerations might still be a factor, Durand puts this in a much broader perspective in terms of a rejection of a core tenant of neoliberalism: the subordination of labour in the interests of protecting against inflation:

Okun, briefly the chair of LBJ’s Council of Economic Advisers, argued in 1973 that accepting slack – the under-utilization of resources, especially labour – as an insurance policy against inflation implied ‘the sacrifice of upward mobility’, while ‘a higher-pressure labour market’ would launch a process of ladder-climbing, in which ‘men formerly in poor jobs move into better ones, making way for women and young people in the less well-paid pursuits’. Wage differentials would narrow, as ‘the same forces that make for more jobs also make for better jobs and more output per worker.’

This seems to be Biden’s strategy: increasing employment, reducing inequality and fostering productivity growth, via high-pressure economic policy. As his speechwriters put it, ‘trickle-down economics has never worked’; the objective should be ‘to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out’. Let’s take a moment to enjoy these words – a plain U-turn from the kind of policies that Democrats like Biden have been implementing for decades. For the left, this represents the result of years of ideological and political mobilization with the Sanders campaigns, and AOC’s rise as the tip of an iceberg of activist endeavour.

The of Biden’s National Economic Council has publicly cited climate change, China and inequality as three social problems which can’t be adequately addressed without massive state intervention. If I understand correctly, he’s arguing that this is a recognition that capitalist social relations are ultimately imperilled by these three challenges to the extent that it’s seen to mandate a shift to an entirely different model of capitalist governance. This is neither post-capitalism nor anti-capitalism but it’s looking increasingly like the end of neoliberalism.

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