On the economy, the Biden team shows the way

On the economy, the Biden team shows the way

Biden economic advisor Jared Bernstein discusses the administration’s stimulus package at a press briefing Feb. 5. (Photo: Screen grab White House video)

President’s economic advisor charts a course that NC leaders should mimic

The dog days of the winter of 2021 are here.

The pandemic continues to cast a dark and frightening pall over the nation as the death toll approaches a half-million and vast swaths of the population remain unemployed, uninsured, unvaccinated, and uncertain about how to pay for groceries and rent.

Meanwhile, with the horror of January 6th and the euphoria that accompanied the departure of the most corrupt and dangerous president in the nation’s history both receding in the rear-view mirror, U.S. Senate Republicans appear stubbornly poised to ignore the plain evidence and acquit Donald Trump of the obvious high crimes he committed right in front of their faces.

At such a challenging moment, one searches anxiously for signs of wisdom and action from the nation’s leaders – some indication that the people steering the ship of state grasp the magnitude of the crisis and the urgent need for public institutions to blaze a path toward recovery.

Thankfully, such signs are numerous and readily apparent – both in the simple decency and common sense that the new president displays on a daily basis, and in the obvious intelligence and competence of the aides he has empowered to carry out his agenda.

This latter fact, in particular, was on display last Friday during a spirit-lifting White House press briefing in which Jared Bernstein – a brilliant economist who has long served as one of President Biden’s top economic advisors – patiently explained to the assembled members of the media and a national audience the vital importance of swiftly passing Biden’s “American Rescue Plan.”

You can watch Bernstein hold forth (along with the able assistance of the formidable new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki) by clicking here, or read the full transcript by clicking here, but the Cliff Notes version goes something like this:

The toxic combination of the pandemic, the recession it spawned and the Trump administration’s utter and sustained incompetence in fashioning a coherent response have left the nation and its economy in an extremely precarious position. While the wealthy continue to fare just fine for the most part, the middle class and the poor have seldom faced more dire straits. The situation is especially bad for women and people of color.

As Bernstein noted, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report makes clear that the national economic recovery is stalling:

The lack of job growth is a result of our failure to act appropriately in response to this immense dual crisis, and our economy and our families can’t afford for us to fail to act once again. Strong relief is urgently and quickly needed to control the virus, get vaccine shots in arms, and finally launch a robust, equitable, and racially inclusive recovery.”

At such a moment, Bernstein explained, experience from past downturns makes clear that half-measures are not the answer. What’s more, the urgent importance of ending human suffering in the near term far outweighs the chance the economy might have to endure a bout of inflation down the road:

… the risks of doing too little are far greater than the risk of going big, providing families and businesses with the relief they need to finally put this virus behind us.

… and the costs of inaction, of not addressing these risks, are too steep and too costly to these vulnerable — to these vulnerable groups, relative to the likelihood of overheating.”

In other words, it’s essential that Congress push ahead with the President’s $1.9 trillion relief package. Objections from some Republicans – a group that utterly ignored deficit spending during the Trump years, but that seems suddenly to have rediscovered its concern for the issue now that large corporations and the top 1% would no longer be the prime beneficiaries – are simply not credible (or finding support amongst voters).

As Bernstein insightfully noted, long-term budget health and economic prosperity will come with “building the economy back better” rather than relying on a misguided revival of miserly austerity.

Indeed, the approach of the Biden-Bernstein “rescue and recovery” plan is one that North Carolina leaders would do well to emulate – especially given the state’s enormous needs and the fact highlighted by N.C. Budget & Tax Center director Alexandra Sirota in a recent, on-the-mark essay, that the state has roughly $5 billion (above and beyond the so-called “rainy day fund”) at its immediate disposal to dedicate to relief.

As she notes:

The General Assembly should therefore not only move immediately on the Governor’s [extremely modest proposal to spend 16.5%, or $698 million, of the state’s unreserved budget balance] but go beyond it to fully address the challenges that are facing families, businesses, and communities as COVID-19 nears the one-year mark.”

The bottom line: If ever there was a moment for strong and swift action from national and state leaders to address the massive crises that confront us, this is it. Fortunately, at the national level, we appear to be on the right track. One hopes North Carolina leaders are paying close attention.