Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Opinion | Bidenomics is transformative. Biden needs to ensure voters know it.

Opinion | Bidenomics is transformative. Biden needs to ensure voters know it.


Some presidents don’t have a strong story to tell about their record, so they deflect, distract and demonize their opponents. Other presidents’ records almost speak for themselves. President Biden, however, finds himself in an unusual spot: An economic record that has been working far better than most people anticipated but that the electorate doesn’t yet recognize.

The economy has created 13 million jobs, inflation has been more than cut in half, huge investments are being made in infrastructure and green energy, wage growth has begun to outpace inflation, the first drug price controls are going into effect and the biggest corporations will finally be forced to pay something in federal taxes. Yet polls show voters incorrectly think we are in a recession and remain negative about the economy.

The White House is well aware of the problem.

Beginning this week, the White House is making a focused push to narrow the gap between performance and perception. On Monday, senior Biden advisers Mike Donilon and Anita Dunn released a four-page memo explaining the president’s vision, which they call “Bidenomics.”

Dunn and Donilon wrote, “Bidenomics is rooted in the simple idea that we need to grow the economy from the middle out and the bottom up — not the top down. … Implementing that economic vision and plan — and decisively turning the page on the era of trickle-down economics — has been the defining project of the Biden presidency.” They then ticked off a list of accomplishments: an economic recovery five years earlier than expected, “13 million jobs since the President took office — including nearly 800,000 manufacturing jobs,” a higher job-participation rate for working-age Americans than at anytime in the past 20 years, “transformative investments that are not only bringing back good-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, but also bringing back a sense of pride and dignity to communities across America.”

E.J. Dionne Jr.: If ‘Bidenomics’ works, it will be a very big deal

At the White House on Monday, Biden highlighted the infrastructure bill’s $42 billion investment in fast internet. On Wednesday, he delivered what was billed as a “major” economic address in Chicago. There, he decried trickle-down economics that “failed” the country and the middle class.

His three-part vision: “targeted investment” that encourages private investment (comparing it to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s rural electrification and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interstate highway program); empowering workers (made-in-America provisions, increasing Pell grants and support for historically Black colleges and universities); and promoting competition (enforcing antitrust rules, cracking down on noncompete clauses, Medicare negotiation for lower drug prices). Biden stressed that the United States is “leading the world economies since the pandemic.” As Biden said, it is “awful hard to demagogue something when it’s working.”

Biden is also emphasizing a break with trickle-down economics, which, he says, increased inequality, sent jobs overseas and hollowed out towns. He argued that this is also a recipe for healing divisions.

The media remains fixated on Biden’s failure to sell his program. He should not need to sell a program that already passed. He does need explain what he delivered — without blaming the media for incessantly negative coverage or chalking up the gap between performance and perception to general cynicism about politics (although both are true). Instead of expressing frustration with the electorate, he often sounds like a patient parent, noting with empathy that the country has been through a lot and acknowledging that Americans still feel uneasy about the world.

He is utterly determined to hammer his economic message home between now and Election Day. To help the average voter see what he has gotten (such as cheaper insulin and real wage growth), White House officials are providing a flood of data to highlight the transformative nature of the investments and to personalize Biden’s achievements.

On a macro level, the level of private and public investment in the heartland stand out. Biden insists he is president of the entire country and that he will take care of regions that didn’t vote for him. In that sense, he is building the economy geographically from the “middle out,” as well.

According to a White House fact sheet, the bipartisan infrastructure law has already created 35,000 projects across the country. Its green energy push has spurred more than 150 battery plants and 50 solar plants. “In all, we’ve seen $490 billion in private investment commitments in 21st century industries since the President took office, and inflation-adjusted manufacturing construction spending has grown by nearly 100% in just two years,” the fact sheet announced. “New data … shows the clean energy workforce added nearly 300,000 jobs in 2022 and clean energy jobs grew in every state in America. … Inflation-adjusted income is up 3.5% since the President took office, and low-wage workers have seen the largest wage gains over the last year.”

A recent Treasury Department report emphasized the volume of that investment and the quality of jobs created. “Real manufacturing construction spending has doubled since the end of 2021.” It found: “Within real construction spending on manufacturing, most of the growth has been driven by computer, electronics, and electrical manufacturing. Since the beginning of 2022, real spending on construction for that specific type of manufacturing has nearly quadrupled.” Because such investments increase productivity, the result should be both increased growth and downward pressure on inflation. (It is noteworthy that other industrial countries have not experienced such a boom and have higher inflation and higher unemployment.)

Biden’s success will depend on continued growth, job creation and inflation reduction. But it’s hard to deny the results so far have been impressive. Economists might look back on this time as an inflection point when historic investments ushered in a new era of domestic manufacturing, gave a new lease on life to the Rust Belt and improved the balance sheet of middleclass Americans.

The challenge for Biden, his advisers and surrogates will be to get the public to focus on these developments now, in real time. Because repetition is generally the key to political communication, be prepared to hear Bidenomics again and again over the next 16 months.



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