Joe Biden won the presidency but the Democratic Party—at least the more radical wing that strongly influenced his platform—didn’t won the hearts and minds of Americans.
Sentiment is growing for pragmatic problem-solving and re-emphasizing shared American values. Ticket splitting down the ballot and statewide propositions would seem to indicate ordinary voters are mostly moderate. And would welcome a cooperative relationship between the Biden administration and a Republican Senate, should the GOP prevail in the Georgia runoffs.
While we have been fighting among ourselves about the face of the future, China and others have been embracing it.
The first order of business should be to enlist Republican leaders in selling Americans the necessity of vaccines. I’d like to see Biden and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell taking their shots together and encourage Americans to avoid crowded spaces, accept contact tracing and quarantining, and become more cautious about travel.
The recovery is flailing
Disappointing jobs reports indicate the recovery is flailing, and the growing number of long-term unemployed indicates that many of the jobless have been laid off in industries that won’t reawaken to their previous vitality. Cities such as New York will restructure as much of the work from home becomes permanent.
A $1 trillion stimulus package won’t restore employment to its pre-pandemic levels, and the emphasis of his choice at the Labor Department will be critical. Political energy and money are always limited, and placing priority on apprenticeships and workforce training would do the president-elect more good with voters than overly aggressive reregulation of the employer-employee relationship.
At the Justice Department antitrust division and Federal Trade Commission, the reverse may be true.
In so many ways, the easiest path to winning a national election is to pander to nostalgia for a lost industrial age and union jobs.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed strong interests in curbing Big Tech but to win voter sympathy, privacy rights and fostering ideological evenhandedness, as well as election security and market dominance, will win him the most plaudits. And regulators must be surgical so as not to undermine international competitiveness.
Americans have made clear they are sympathetic to the plight of immigrants but are not interested in open borders. They are sympathetic to the goals of Black Lives Matter but not replacing police with social workers and racial quotas.
Biden should task Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with hammering out compromise legislation with moderate Republicans on immigration and police reform. Let her demonstrate she has the skills to govern—not just to prosecute.
In so many ways, the easiest path to winning a national election is to pander to nostalgia for a lost industrial age and union jobs—complain China is stealing and robots are killing good jobs. The hard fact is, as we crack down on China, manufacturers are mostly moving elsewhere in Asia and Mexico.
American voters will support green industries. That’s why businesses everywhere court customers by boasting of plans to reduce carbon footprints, and America’s largest electric utilities are aiming to become totally carbon free. All despite Donald Trump’s climate change denial.
The Asians and Europeans are way ahead on electric cars, crafting national strategies to build out the next generation of portable energy—hydrogen—and robotics. But don’t believe the Green New Deal narrative that subsidizing those industries can strengthen organized labor.
EVs are simpler than gas-powered automobiles and require fewer workers to make and maintain. Solar and wind power are becoming competitive over the lifetime of equipment. Capacity may be expensive to install, but it needs a lot fewer workers to keep going—gas turbines require constant drilling, fracking and the laying of steel pipe to keep fuel flowing.
While we have been fighting among ourselves about the face of the future, China and others have been embracing it. Despite a cheap labor advantage, it has 50% more robots per dollar of factory output, and the Koreans, Japanese and even the Italians are ahead too. Chinese drivers can choose among 138 EVs, the Europeans 68 but the Americans only 17.
This is war
Biden needs to give America an industrial policy because as in war, the Chinese, Japanese and Europeans have national strategies to supplement their private sectors.
China’s research and development efforts are growing faster than ours. Federal support as a share of R&D spending has been falling for years, while whoever is president complains about Beijing’s subsidies for companies like Huawei.
An American industrial policy must be a competitiveness policy, and not impose rigid racial and gender goals. If it does, American businesses simply won’t find enough engineers and will fail.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.