Joe Biden recycles Franklin D. Roosevelt

Marina Gusmão, Mingus, Digital illustration.
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By ATILIO A. BORON*

Biden gives a defensive response to the unprecedented depth of the crisis of US capitalism and the resounding failure of orthodox policies

The macroeconomic reorientation of the Biden government gave rise to numerous speculations about how far the US representative would go in this new direction. A careful reading of his speech, delivered before both houses of Congress on the 100th day of his mandate, allows us to glimpse a first answer.

Biden said his words had to be interpreted within the framework of a triple crisis: "the worst pandemic of the century, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the worst attack on democracy since the Civil War". Addressing these threats was not something that could be done with business as usual, but it required creativity and renewed efforts. From his speech, it is clear that it is easier to fight the pandemic, more difficult to attack the economic crisis and even more difficult to heal the wounds suffered by American democracy, which, in the opinion of many observers within that country, has degraded to the level of a voracious plutocracy.

Let's leave the pandemic for another time, to focus on economic proposals. There is clearly a return to New Deal of Roosevelt, although he is mentioned only once throughout the sixteen pages of his speech, and not exactly when he talks about the economy. But his announcements are a plea in favor of a vigorous reaffirmation of the role of the state as a redistributor of wealth and income, as an investor in large undertakings in infrastructure and new technologies, and as a guarantor of the strengthening of the middle classes, daughters, in turn, of the union activism.

Because, he clarified, "the trickle-down economy has never worked... and it's time for the economy to grow from the bottom up." The numbers he cited to justify this macroeconomic paradigm shift, which completely displaces the charlatans and economic consultants who continue to propagate the fallacies of neoliberalism in many of Argentina's media, were well known in left-wing academic and political circles in the United States, but almost completely unknown to the general public and even members of Congress. For example, the difference between the income of the CEO of some companies and the average worker is 320 to 1, while in the past it was an already intolerable 100 to 1, an equation incompatible with the “American dream”.

Therefore, the tripling of this gap must be corrected by public policies. Billionaires have become even richer with the pandemic and have used all the mechanisms at their disposal to evade paying taxes, which fall on the middle classes and workers, a statement that fits like a glove to describe the situation in Argentina. Hence his proposal to impose a tax of 39,6% on those earning more than $400 a year. It is unacceptable, Biden said, that 55 of the nation's largest corporations have not paid a penny in federal taxes, despite making more than $40 billion in profits. The Rooseveltian resonances of his speech were heightened when he asserted, contrary to a widespread credo, that “Wall Street did not build this country. The middle classes who did. And it was the unions that created the middle classes.” Then he asked Congress to quickly pass legislation to support the right to organize unions, which had been severely curtailed by Reagan. Walmart and Amazon, to mention the two most well-known cases, have been the flag bearers of the anti-union fight in recent times and will fight hard battles against Biden's proposals.

How can we interpret this very significant shift in the speech and legislative proposals presented by Biden? Did he convert to national-populism, to socialism? None of that. It is the defensive response to the unprecedented depth of the crisis of US capitalism and the resounding failure of the orthodox policies promoted by the IMF and the World Bank to face it. And in the face of the fiasco produced by the tax cuts for the rich promoted by Trump, which, predictably, did not have the desired effect.

More than Biden, however, the reaction comes from the heights of the state apparatus which, in the Marxist tradition, on critical occasions plays the role of the “ideal collective capitalist”. That is, a subject that rises above petty corporate or sectoral interests and appeals to strategies that protect the capitalist class as a whole and capital as an economic system, threatened by competition from China and bellicosity from Russia. First, because of its overwhelming economic dynamism and its great technological advances; of Russia, for its “evil interference” in American politics. And when speaking of technological change (with implications for both defense and everyday life), Biden asserted that the United States is lagging behind in this crucial race with the “autocracies” of China and Russia, which challenge the leadership given to them. The United States must exercise in the world, although no one can say who, how and when such a high mission was entrusted to it. Hence the radical nature of the proposed changes.

Atilio A. Borón is professor of political science at the University of Buenos Aires. Author, among other books, of Minerva's Owl (Voices).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published in the newspaper Page12.

 

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