It promises to improve economic well-being relative to current economic policy for average and particularly less well-off citizens now and in the future, and to do the same for citizens of other countries including all immigrants. Can it deliver?
The Mock Democratic Platform was released in February, the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force a few weeks ago, and the draft 2020 Platform a few days ago. The economic plan is the most ambitious progressive anti-capitalist agenda at least since FDR’s New Deal and arguably in American history. It consistently proposes numerous government carrots and sticks to achieve its economic objectives, doubling down on the New Deal and Great Society methods.
Causes and Consequences of Reducing Capital and Labor Productivity
Potential national wealth is limited only by the amount of capital (national savings) and the incentive to maximize the productivity of capital (e.g., with new technology) and labor (through appropriate education and training). Politics often distorts individual incentives for the worse.
Politically Re-directed Investment
The US national savings rate hovered around 3% after turning negative in 2007-2009 and again now. The Biden economic plan for politically re-directing resources to, e.g., conservation, clean energy, transportation, manufacturing, infrastructure, affordable housing, etc. by subsidizing public and taxing private investment more has some merit. However, it may have problematic economic returns and the total cost is many multiples of total national savings.
Education and School Choice
Biden would limit the competition with public schools by restricting higher performing charter schools. Higher education would be made either affordable or free with reduced entrance requirements to compensate for a poor primary education, but higher education only contributes to individual and national wealth to the extent it improves productivity, e.g., with more STEM graduates.
Labor Market Intervention
By traditional measures, the country was fully employed prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, but the Biden plan calls for the “creation” of multiple millions of new high paying jobs, both in the nominally still private sector and the public sector. Pay would be raised by eliminating the right to work without being forced to join a union, something private sector unions have demanded since the passage of the Taft Hartley Act of 1947. But Biden plans to go beyond that, forcing all states to unionize public employees as well. For those that fall out of this broad union net, the federal minimum wage would start at $15/hour, superseding state laws. These are the tools that progressives historically used to keep blacks, other minorities and recent immigrants out of the labor force, and is is difficult to see how they would do otherwise this time around.
As these politically inflated domestic labor costs will again be uncompetitive internationally the Biden plan opposes any trade deals, calling for manufactured goods to be sourced and stamped “made in America.” Consumer prices would have to rise commensurate with labor costs.
Borders would be relatively open and immigrants incentivized to come both by the decline in export-related jobs and the benefits of the U.S. social welfare state. But they would be excluded from the formal job market by the union and minimum wage requirements once inside the U.S. border.
Taxation, Debt and Money Printing: The Limits of Expropriation
All senior mob leaders know two things well: 1. There is only so much extortion money to go around (gangster killings are usually over excessive greed), and 2, There are limits to how much you can extort without killing a business. At their peak in the 1980s the New York Mafia “owned” the labor unions that extorted from business, enabled by a symbiotic relationship of both with the Democratic Party. Sooner or later taxpayers and consumers always pay.
Debt and Taxes
State and local governments are in dire straits and blue states are technically insolvent, demanding a bailout. Federal funding has morphed the states into Soviet era oblasts with the federal government the funding source of first resort.
Current federal debt is $27 trillion, exceeding that of WW II as a percent of the economy, with over $200 trillion in additional contingent liabilities.. The current federal deficit for this fiscal year is over $3 trillion, to which the Democrat-proposed Heroes Act would add an additional $3 trillion. Candidate Biden has offered tiny constituent groups, e.g., caregivers, almost $1 trillion, large constituent groups such as the environmentalists’ Green New Deal could cost upwards of $100 trillion, with lots of constituent promises falling in between.
The Biden plan calls for reversing the Trump corporate tax cut that stimulated investment and exports. Taxing the “rich” will raise some revenue in the short run but reduce investment and growth in the longer run. Middle class taxes will follow, although he is committed to restoring the (blue) state and local income tax deduction for the relatively wealthy.
The Federal Reserve and Modern Monetary Theory
Having gone past the limit, a gangster may turn to counterfeiting as a last resort. The Federal Reserve is already “printing” enough money to be the primary buyer of Treasury debt and at the current pace would own it all in two years. Under the Modern Monetary Theory espoused by the Sanders campaign and now implicitly incorporated into the Biden economic plan, debts and deficits don’t matter so long as the Fed can print money to purchase them. The Biden plan adds “racial equity” to the Fed’s full employment and price stability goals to reduce differences in wages and unemployment.
Biden’s Plan is an Extortion Racket on the Left-Behind Track
Across time and space the evidence supports competitive market capitalism as the source of virtually all human economic progress. The Biden economic plan is essentially an extortion racket that fails to recognize its inherent limits, doubling down on the bad policies of the current Administration while eliminating the good, apparently because the Party’s octogenarian leaders either never learned the limits or have lost control to the young radical left. This plan so far exceeds the limits that even partial success could easily lead to hyper-inflation.
There is a sense that America can always turns things around if it gets derailed but the progressive perspective dominates America’s intellectual elite and media. Argentina was once on the capitalist fast track parallel to the U.S., but progressive President Juan Peron switched tracks in 1946, and Argentina has been left behind ever since.
Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.