Biden’s Next Agenda: Anti-Monopoly | Washington Monthly
How improving the US antitrust regime is a winning question for the administration and the country.
President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order to promote competition in the economy, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, July 9, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)
On the last day of September, David Brooks of The New York Times published one of his “Wow, he looks like a Democrat” column that is so popular with older liberals. In it, he passionately defended the massive spending bills that the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats were struggling to push forward.
The trillions of dollars in investments in infrastructure and social protection, he noted, would mainly benefit ordinary, barely scratched Americans, many of whom live in red states and do not have a college degree. These are precisely the people screwed up by the decades-long upward redistribution of income and opportunity to the benefit of big business and educated elites. Because this transfer of wealth sparked populist fury that destabilized American democracy, Democrats would send an important moral and cultural message:
These packages tell troubled parents and warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You make your way. You are at the center of our national vision.
I would like to think Brooks is right about this. Certainly, the spending would dramatically improve the lives of low-end Americans. But would the desired message be received?
I am not so sure. In March, Biden signed the nearly $ 2 trillion US bailout, with features like an expanded child tax credit that Democrats aimed to make permanent in their reconciliation bill this fall. . Yet even though the polls suggest voters, including many Republicans, enjoyed tax credits and other spending, Biden’s approval numbers ultimately plummeted, even among Democrats. Expenses do not have cause tanking – things like the Delta variant wave and the ugly withdrawal from Afghanistan did. But even with its easy-to-see stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, the US bailout failed to reposition Biden and the Congressional Democrats as the people’s champions.
We probably shouldn’t have expected it. Two trillion dollars may seem like a lot of money. But only about half will be spent by the end of 2021. That’s less than 5% of the nation’s projected 2021 GDP of $ 22.74 trillion.
The truth is, even relatively large increases in federal spending tend to go unrecorded with most voters when compared to the dynamics of a much larger market economy that they experience on a daily basis. Brooks himself broadly recognized it:
These measures would obviously not solve our problems. In many large Western countries, vast tectonic forces concentrate wealth in affluent metropolitan areas and leave behind vast tracts of countryside. We don’t yet know how to do the kind of regional development that reverses this trend.
Ah, but David, we know, as Washington Monthly explained for a decade. Spending is just one tool the federal government has to tackle issues like regional inequalities. It can also shape the behavior of the markets themselves, through regulation and the enforcement of antitrust laws. He did it in the Progressive Era, and again in the second half of the New Deal. The result was that the central economies in the mid-decades of the 20th century reversed their earlier declines and median incomes moved closer to those on the coasts. All of this progress began to falter in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when administrations on both sides deregulated industries and relaxed regulations.
enforcement of antitrust laws.
The good news is that the Biden administration understands this. In July, the president issued an executive order ordering federal agencies to crack down on consolidating the U.S. economy using existing statutory powers that have mostly been dormant for years. He also named smart and aggressive regulators like Federal Trade Commission Chairman Lina Khan, who wrote pioneering articles on antitrust laws for the Monthly. And there is a growing movement in Congress to strengthen antitrust laws governing everything from technology to agriculture – a movement that, unlike spending efforts, enjoys broad bipartisan support. You can read about these ongoing efforts and what needs to be added to the agenda in the special “Unwinding Monopoles” report in this issue of the. Washington Monthly.
The bad news is that most Americans have no idea what’s going on. All they see in the news is partisan wrangling over massive spending bills. And the thought-leader journalists who should educate them on how enforcing and improving antitrust laws can make their local economies more competitive and raise wages are either ignorant or silent on the subject. Google “David Brooks Monopoly” and see what you get.
However, all is not lost. In 2022, with the biggest spending battles likely behind him, Biden will be free to focus his attention, and that of the nation, on the actions his government is taking to challenge monopolies and restore competition. He can do this primarily without asking permission from Mitch McConnell and without spending additional tax dollars. It’s a much stronger position for Biden and his party ahead of the midterm elections. And that just might save the country.