Work with Biden on Build Back Better.
Biden’s Build Back Better was originally promoted as a Keynesian attempt to restore the economy after Covid-19; Inflation has undermined this justification. The bill’s revenue provisions carefully refrain from imposing carbon taxes or taxes on carried equity, an apparent attempt to fulfill a campaign promise not to tax those earning less than $400,000 a year. The tax provisions would represent a political recipe for success if the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard received 350 electoral college votes combined.
Discussion of the bill was limited to its price without evaluating the merits of its programs. Consider the largest component of the bill, designed to tackle “climate change,” here. It aims to convert motor vehicles from petrol to electric drives. Even Elon Musk, who made his billions from electric car subsidies, doubts the need to expand such subsidies. With 30 percent of the country still dependent on coal as a marginal fuel for power plants, using electricity instead of gasoline to fuel millions of cars will do little to help the environment. Nor does the bill explain why the natural gas technology used by the Germans during World War II and in bus fleets since isn’t more promising – albeit less pure, as it reduces rather than eliminates CO2 emissions.
Texas residents, like New York City residents before them, have learned that power outages, even for a few hours or days, cause chaos and lost productivity. The power grid, unlike gas-powered cars, is subject to weather fluctuations and an easy target for cyberwarfare. Risks exist not only for society as a whole, but also for individuals. Failure to fill up a gas tank can be resolved in minutes, while failure to flick an electrical switch to charge a car can result in a 12-hour delay.
The bill’s proposed investment in passenger transport is odd. So far, “progressive” economists like John Kenneth Galbraith have not subscribed to what Mrs Thatcher called “the big automobile company.” Why would progressives invest in cars instead of, say, high school science classes? It’s also hard to justify that the bill favors some renewable energies, like wind and solar, over others, like nuclear and hydropower.
The entire “global warming” program is the product of moral panic, not rational planning. One can believe that human-caused warming is real, without forgetting that its effects are gradual and likely to be mitigated by human innovation and adaptation—even without government action. Residents of low-lying islands and flood plains will move elsewhere. Home builders will improve insulation against heat. New plant strains and substances are developed, new aquifers are discovered and new taxes are levied against wasteful uses. Diet will change.
Biden’s plan is one-dimensional, and as former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption recently lamented in the context of the pandemic, one-dimensional thinking inevitably leads to blind spots. Biden’s climate proposals are not the product of national planning like Jean Monnet’s “indicative planning” in post-war France, Albert Gallatin’s report on public roads, the Hoover administration’s study of “recent social trends,” or the aborted work of Franklin Roosevelt’s National Resources Planning Committee under Frederick Delano .
Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, and even William Howard Taft were all sorts of futurists looking for new resources: Jefferson through exploration, Adams through physical and social infrastructure, Roosevelt through conservation, and Taft through a failed free trade agreement with Canada Response to the closure of the American border. In contrast, there is nothing creative or constructive in the Democrats’ program: no school improvements, no investments in oceanography, desert agriculture, or hydrology. It only grants favors to interest groups.
The global warming program would be rational if it only targeted the really sore spots in American society. The so-called Climate Corps, a revived Civilian Conservation Corps, is a potentially useful program. Although vaguely described in the bill, if steered properly — military involvement in initial training and wage allocations to enrollers’ families to instill pride, accountability, and increase admission rates — it could put an end to the illicit drug trade as Rule employers of first (or last) refuge for the youth in our inner cities and disadvantaged rural areas.
The other provisions in the bill are a mixed bag. As for childcare, the family tax credit — originally a Republican initiative — reduces demand and undermines the case for publicly provided daycare. The socialization of pre-school, day care and adult care is ultimately geared towards forcing unwilling women into the labor market and expanding the already too powerful public sector unions. The bill’s proposed expansion of drug treatment funding to poorer states that have opted out of the recent expansion of Medicaid, on the other hand, is a defensible policy, as is improved minimum wage provision, so long as it is accompanied and balanced by the exclusion of young workers from the payroll tax. After all, it is alarming that the share of wages in national income has fallen from 52 percent in 1970 to 43 percent in 2019.
Reflexive opposition is not an adequate republican program. Actionable parts of Biden’s program should be passed as stand-alone bills with adequate revenue streams as long as they move us toward becoming a property-based democracy, with citizens dependent on work rather than welfare. Biden’s crude industrial policy that would replace the motor fleet and its fuel infrastructure is not a proper part of such a program.
George Liebman is President of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar and the author of numerous works on law and history, most recently Vox Clamantis in Deserto: An iconoclast looks at four failed governments.