Biden is not Roosevelt

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By PLINIO DE ARRUDA SAMPAIO JR.*

The balance of the first 100 days of his government leaves no room for great illusions.

Pressured by the colossal political, social and health crisis, by the growing difficulty of containing China's emergence in the international economic scenario and by the urgency of stopping the environmental disaster that threatens the planet, Joe Biden presents himself as the providential man to stop the escalation of capitalist barbarism. To this end, he promises to rescue the role of the US State as an architect of capitalist development, an agent of internal social cohesion and the undisputed guardian of the free world. The distance between what is said and what is done is abysmal.

Apart from the official propaganda, which seeks to characterize him as the antithesis of Reagan, an unexpected reincarnation of Franklin Roosevelt, the balance of the first 100 days of his government leaves no room for great illusions.

The identity diversity in charge of strategic posts serves only to camouflage the strict control of large monopoly and financial capital over the State. The blacks, Latinos, women and lgbts who make up the high hierarchy of the Biden government came directly from the boards of large corporations or are linked to study centers and strategic consultancies financed by big capital. Attention is drawn to the large contingent of assistants from the Council on Foreign Relations, also known as the “Wall Street Think Tank”, among which the figure of the vice president, Kamala Harris, stands out. In short, Biden's high command was trained to look for solutions to the problems of neoliberalism from within neoliberalism itself.[I]

In addition to the progressive rhetoric to please the electoral base and the concern to differentiate himself from Trump, the new president of the United States, in his first initiatives, basically limited himself to: changing health policy, encouraging social distancing and vaccination mass of the population; restore the foreign policy of the Obama administration, repositioning the United States in multilateral international forums and revitalizing offensive actions around the world; and reinforce public spending policy to mitigate the devastating effects of the economic crisis, increasing the dose of the IMF's fiscal and monetary policy prescription, which was already being applied by the Trump administration.

So far, the promise to increase taxation on great wealth, the measures to help American families and the infrastructure investment plan – projects that make up its “Rebuild Better” program – are nothing more than beautiful intentions. When examined objectively, the three initiatives turn out to be much more modest and conventional than those who imagine the Biden administration as a break with neoliberalism and the beginning of the transition to a sweetened and ecological capitalism.

The law proposed by the Democrats to increase the income tax of those who earn more than US$ 400 million a year only revokes the indiscriminate reductions of the Trump years, recomposing what existed at the end of the Obama administration. The increase in taxation on capital gains on the stock exchange and other measures aimed at eliminating the aberrant tax privileges of the richest 1%, measures that would in fact represent a significant innovation, depend on the unlikely approval of the oligarchy that controls the National Congress.[ii]

The family aid project – Plan for American Families –, budgeted at US$ 1,8 trillion, to be spent over 10 years, does not go beyond a welfare policy – ​​in the style of Bolsa Família and PROUNI. The low priority given to poor families is evident when one sees that annual spending on them would represent less than 1% of GDP – four times less than the Pentagon budget in 2021. Instead of facing the causes of poverty – the progressive degradation of the labor market that increases structural unemployment and systematically lowers wages – the strategy is to manage poverty, in clear recognition of the impotence to eliminate it.[iii]

Finally, investments in infrastructure recovery prove to be far below what is needed to restore the United States' faltering international competitiveness and initiate the transition to a green economy – its two primary objectives. The spending of about $2,3 trillion over eight years provided for in the American Work Plan, which equates to an average annual spending of $290 billion (about 1,2% of GDP), would only mitigate the speed of decay, but they could not avoid it, let alone stop the acceleration of global warming. In fact, both the decline of the US empire and the escalation of the environmental crisis are inexorable effects of the perverse logic of wage arbitrage and the depredation of nature on a global scale, driven by the large corporations that command the Biden government.[iv]

The abandonment of Trump's health neoliberalism and the reinforcement of emergency measures to combat the recession had an immediate impact on the lives of Americans. In the first 100 days of the Biden government, under the effect of the mass vaccination policy, daily coronavirus infections were divided by five, and deaths by more than four. The relative control over the coronavirus epidemic was accompanied by a vigorous economic recovery. Boosted by the additional injection of US$ 1,9 trillion into the economy, the level of activity in the first quarter recorded expansion of 2,6% compared to the previous quarter, confirming the IMF's expectation of an annual GDP expansion of around 6,4, XNUMX%.

The reversal of the recession softens the brutal impact of the capitalist crisis on the lives of workers, but it would be an illusion to imagine that the fiscal and monetary activism of Biden's economic policy could boost a new cycle of capitalist expansion, as is boasted in many nostalgic circles. The euphoria of the twenties, after the end of the recession provoked by the Spanish flu, will not be repeated. The historical context is another.[v]

Without liquidating the absolute surplus of capital and without opening new fronts for innovation and the diffusion of technical progress, there is no way to counterbalance the downward trend in the rate of profit and unblock the creative destruction that drives capitalist development. And even if there were a sustainable growth cycle, there would be no reason to assume the possibility of a virtuous relationship between capital accumulation, job creation and wage growth.[vi]

The capitalism of the XNUMXst century is not that of the XNUMXth century. Without questioning the cause of the problem – the free circulation of capital on a transnational scale – it is impossible to avoid its deleterious effects. Business globalization, economic instability, lowering of workers' traditional standard of living, social inequality, crisis of liberal democracy, resurgence of national rivalries, intensification of class struggle and environmental degradation are processes inherent to the capitalism of our time.

There is no national solution to the crisis that shakes the world economy and there is no international leadership capable of articulating a minimally coordinated economic policy to overcome it. The capitalism of our time, as the Hungarian philosopher István Mészáros said, plugs a hole by digging an even bigger one. Without a workers' insurrection against the bourgeois order and a political program that goes beyond capital, placing the urgency of radical changes in the way of living and producing, it will not be possible to avoid the escalation of capitalist barbarism.

* Plinio de Arruda Sampaio Jr. is a retired professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp and editor of Contrapoder website. Author, among other books, of Between nation and barbarism – dilemmas of dependent capitalism (Voices).

Notes


[I] For a detailed analysis of the academic background and ideological articulation of the thirty main cadres of the Biden administration, see the article by Laurence H. Shoup, “The Council on Foreign Relations, the Biden Team, and Key Policy Outcomes”, in Monthly Review, May 2021. (https://monthlyreview.org/2021/05/01/the-council-on-foreign-relations-the-biden-team-and-key-policy-outcomes/).

[ii] The summary examination of the Biden administration's tax proposal can be found in Sam Pizzigati, “President Biden's Tax-the-Rich-Plan: Just how Bold?”, April 29, 2021. (https://inequality.org/great- divide/president-bidens-tax-the-rich-plan-just-how-bold/).

[iii] Biden's American Families Plan is detailed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Families_Plan

[iv] Biden's proposal for transitioning to a green economy is compared with the one formulated by Bernie Sanders at https://newleftreview.org/sidecar/posts/whose-green-new-deal

[v] The difference between the economic situation in the twenties of the twentieth century and the current one is examined by Michael Roberts in his article “The roaring twenties repeated?”, dated 18/04/2021. In: (https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/learning-from-the-great-depression/)

[vi] The damage caused by the coronavirus crisis and the gravity of its medium and long-term effects on the labor market are recognized by the IMF itself in its latest report World Economic Outlook: Managing Divergent Recoveries, April 2021, especially chapters 2 and 3.

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