The conventional wisdom about a hypothetical Joe Biden presidency is that it would be more of a caretaker administrator, reversing no doubt a lot of Trump policies, but by and large, just a preparation for the real next president, whoever he or she is. That real next president would likely be Biden’s vice president who would assume power once Biden becomes too ill to continue, likely within a few months at most of his swearing-in.
However, New York Magazine suggests that the ambition of Biden, or at least those people who are pulling his strings, run far beyond just having him gracing the Oval Office with his presence. The plan is to have Biden become the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with all that implies. FDR maintains a position of sainthood in Democratic Party politics. However, modern scholarship suggests that the former vice president’s ambitions for a new deal would be a disaster.
It seems that the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.
“They also changed his perception of what the country would need from a president in January 2021 — after not just four years of Trump but almost a full year of death and suffering. The pandemic is breaking the country much more deeply than the Great Recession did, Biden believes and will require a much bigger response. No miraculous rebound is coming in the next six months.”
What will constitute the details of Biden’s version of a New Deal? To put the matter bluntly, it is going to involve more spending, far and beyond the stimulus that has already exploded the national debt.
“Long before the pandemic, he described a range of actions he’d take on day one, from rejoining the Paris climate agreement to signing executive orders on ethics, and he cited other matters, like passing the Equality Act for LGBTQ protections, as top priorities. Already his recovery ambitions have grown to include plans that would flex the muscles of big government harder than any program in recent history. To date, the federal government has spent more than $2 trillion on the coronavirus stimulus — nearly three times what it approved in 2009. Biden wants more spending.”
Biden’s plans include a massive increase in medical research spending in search of a vaccine and other treatments for the coronavirus pandemic. He would also spend money on both infrastructure and on more OSHA inspectors, There would be more money for emergency sick leave, the forgiveness of student loan debt, and $200 more a month in social security spending for every recipient.
The problem is with the return of New Deal-style spending is that the original New Deal did not solve the Great Depression. As Amity Shlaes proved in her masterful work, “The Forgotten Man,” the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression far more than if FDR had done nothing or at least very little.
“As Mrs. Shlaes persuasively argues, the Great Depression did not end because of the New Deal. Quite the opposite, the New Deal was causing the country to forgo prosperity, if not recovery (p. 263). FDR and his New Deal became vampires, living high off a Great Depression that his policies were feeding and keeping alive. So the answer to the current, popular question we all like to ponder, What ended the Great Depression? does not involve understanding regime uncertainty, economics, or even Ludwig von Mises. The sad, simple answer is that America’s Great Depression ended when Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s heart stopped beating.”
Unfortunately, the damage that Biden is likely to cause were he to become president is likely to outlive him, especially if his chosen vice president is of the stripe of an Elizabeth Warren or a Kamala Harris.
However, Biden (or at least those who are pulling his strings) is counting on the coronavirus remaining a problem by election day. Many states are already starting to tentatively reopen their economies.
New treatments and a better understanding of the disease are likely to tamp down on the death toll and perhaps even the rate of serious (which is to say symptomatic) infections.
As for the vaccine that will end the pandemic, Trump has good hopes that it will be widely available by the end of the year. Human trials are already proceeding or soon will be for the various versions being developed.
If Trump is able to announce by October that a vaccine will soon be available and if the economy starts to right itself by the third quarter as the president has predicted, Biden’s iron dream of a newer deal will remain just that—a dream.