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Commentary: New Deal. Fair Deal. Here’s the Deal.

Commentary: New Deal. Fair Deal. Here’s the Deal. May 29, 2024
On Earth Day, 2024, President Biden spoke at the Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, a national park developed in the 1930s by the government’s Works Progress Administration under the New Deal. Photo courtesy W.H.Gov.
On Earth Day, 2024, President Biden spoke at the Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, a national park developed in the 1930s by the government’s Works Progress Administration under the New Deal. Photo courtesy W.H.Gov.

Despite the fact that Joe Biden was Vice-President for eight years and President for four, he still campaigns as though he were a legislator, a class of politician that tends to confuse references to bill numbers with applause lines.

On the campaign trail, Biden will speak of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA),  the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) a.k.a the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill  – frequently and proudly   –  without, however,  explaining that these bills comprise a coherent, comprehensive strategy to retool the American economy for the 21st century – something not only to applaud, but to cast a presidential vote for.

It’s not clear why that should be so, since the Director of Biden’s National Economic Council, Brian Deese (who happens to be married to a graduate of North Creek Central School) laid out that strategy plainly in a speech delivered in 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio, before departing the administration for a fellowship at MIT.

“There’s a strong animating vision that unifies these laws: a modern American industrial strategy,” said Deese, who predicted that the Biden administration’s investments in infrastructure would exceed Eisenhower’s support for interstate highways and that its funding for R&D would outpace President Kennedy’s investment in the Space Race. “Our strategy identifies areas where private industry, on its own, will not mobilize the investment necessary to achieve our core economic and national security interests.  It then uses public investment to spur private investment and innovation.”

As of May 8, 2024, when President Biden traveled to Wisconsin to announce that Microsoft would invest $3.3 billion in an Artificial Intelligence facility in Racine, his industrial strategy had generated $537 billion in public spending and attracted $866 billion from the private sector – and not just for Silicon Valley or Cambridge, MA, but for places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Upstate New York.

The fact that Deese delivered his remarks in Cleveland is noteworthy. That city is often cited as a cautionary tale of rust-belt regions that fail to take advantage of opportunities to reinvent themselves as new economy hubs, as Pittsburgh, for example, has done. When Dr. Martin Schmidt, the new president of RPI, spoke at the Warren County EDC annual luncheon at the Fort William Henry last fall, he implicitly warned this region’s leaders away from Cleveland’s example and urged them to heed the advice of two MIT economists with whom he had worked as MIT’s provost – take advantage of public investment in scientific research and development. The economists’ 2023 book, “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream” has become a textbook for those in federal and state government charged with executing this new “place-based” industrial strategy

It is no less noteworthy that Deese went to MIT, which has become a laboratory for the utilization of science to advance economic growth and for the cross-fertilization of business, academia and government. Schmidt himself played a significant role in that venture, assisting, for instance, with the creation of the world’s first inter-disciplinary college dedicated to the study of artificial intelligence, one seeded by a $350 million donation to MIT from private equity billionaire Steven Schwarzman.

“Here’s the deal,” Biden often says before proceeding to tell audiences what he has done or will do for the economy and for them. Of course, if he fails to win re-election, his new industrial strategy will stall in its tracks, without reaching the levels of funding for research and development achieved by the US. in the 1960s – 2% of the nation’s GDP. According to “Jump-Starting America,” that level of investment fueled an annual growth of 4% and doubled the median family income over the course of three decades. To win re-election, Biden must, as a May 6 article in Foreign Affairs magazine put it,  “convince the American public that…his industrial strategy will benefit both businesses and workers” or, in other words, that his industrial strategy is a new social contract, a deal that is in the best interests of everyone, no matter their level of education, no matter where they live.  To offer some unsolicited and no doubt presumptuous advice, if Biden and his surrogates are to convince the American public to place their trust in this new industrial strategy, they must begin speaking of it in far more persuasive ways than they have to date, packaging Biden’s legislative wins in a form that brands them as his own, just as the New Deal and the Fair Deal,  the New Frontier and the Great Society, did for the signature programs of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

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