In his first two months in office, President Joe Biden, has sent several signals that he will move away from the neoliberal consensus that has prevailed over the past 40 years. The most concrete expression of this is found in the American Rescue Plan. This plan will channel $1.9 trillion to the support of the working middle class and to the expansion of neglected public services like health, education, transportation, housing and social welfare programs for families and children.
Biden’s plan includes direct payments to citizens, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance and rent payments, which were similar to other programs implemented by his predecessors in times of crisis. However, in addition to these, the current plan includes the first guaranteed-income program in the country’s history, a program that could reduce childhood poverty by half.
Beyond this historic proposal, which is aimed at overcoming the economic consequences of the crisis in public health, the former senator and former vice president has given unexpected indications that suggest a new orientation to economic policy in the White House. One of these shifts is in his posture toward unions and workers organizing in defense of their rights: As our correspondent David Brooks has pointed out, Biden’s endorsement of proposed legislation to expand workers’ rights, and his verbal support of the campaign to unionize almost 6,000 workers in an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, can be seen as the most strongly pro-labor stance by a president in decades. In addition, initiatives are being prepared on the infrastructure, on taxation of the very rich, and on the fight against climate change.
Taken together, these changes have led experts like Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman to suggest that we are witnessing the end of neoliberalism and the restoration of a consciousness, identified with Keynesianism, around the necessity for government intervention to safeguard social rights and the basic interests of the majority of those ravaged by the free market.
Thus, Biden’s affirmation that “the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us, all of us, we the people,” appears to bury the neoliberal battle cries of Ronald Reagan, who launched the dismantling of the welfare state, proclaiming in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” This antisocial act of faith was endorsed by Democrat Bill Clinton 15 years later in his famous phrase “the era of big government is over.”
This administration is just getting started, and it still has a long way to go. And it remains to be seen if this shift in favor of the majority will get through and move beyond the effects of the pandemic. Even so, it is undeniably positive to be asking questions and taking measures to replace such a pernicious economic model. For more than almost half a century, this model has systematically failed in its promises of growth and has instead mired the United States and the world in an abyss of inequality, wage stagnation, loss of fundamental rights and unprecedented destruction of the social fabric.
It is right to give credit to a president who has made decisions contrary to the dominant ideology. However, it should be remembered that this paradigm shift is possible thanks to the tireless struggle of a wide variety of progressive movements. Never in the darkest hour did these groups cease to advocate for the creation of a more just system. This advocacy was as much for the working class majority and the planet as for minorities who face specific forms of exclusion, minorities which include immigrants, African Americans, women, indigenous people and those who make up the diverse sexual community.