Middle Out Not Top Down Economics – Bidenomics Actually Works

Heather Cox Richardson

Today offered yet more evidence that Biden’s rejection of the Republicans’ supply-side economics in favor of investing in ordinary Americans is paying off with high growth, low unemployment, and strong wages. 

Today’s jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor for the month of March showed higher job growth than analysts anticipated. Instead of the 214,000 jobs expected, the U.S. added 303,000. The government also revised its estimate of job growth in January and February upward by a combined number of 22,000. President Joe Biden noted that this report meant that the administration had created more than 15 million jobs since he took office.

The unemployment rate was also good, dropping slightly to 3.8% in March. According to economist Steven Rattner of Morning Joe, the United States has now had 26 consecutive months—more than two years—of unemployment under 4%, the longest stretch of unemployment that low since the late 1960s. 

Rattner pointed out that immigrants have helped to push U.S. growth since the pandemic by adding millions of new workers to the labor market. As native-born workers have aged into retirement, immigrants have taken their places and “been essential to America’s post-COVID labor market recovery.” 

Heather Long of the Washington Postadded that wage growth has been 4.1% in the past year, which is well above the 3.2% inflation rate.

“My plan is growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, investing in all Americans, and giving the middle class a fair shot,” Biden said in response to the new jobs report. That system, which resurrects the economy the United States enjoyed between 1933 and 1981, has been a roaring success. 

Biden was in Baltimore, Maryland, today, where he flew over the remains of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, spoke with the response teams there, and met with the families of those who died when the bridge fell. Apparently trying to demonstrate that government can be both efficient and effective, the administration has emphasized speed and competence in its response to the bridge collapse of March 26, 2024.

Kayla Tausche of CNN reported today that the U.S. Coast Guard was onsite within minutes of the collapse, and that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was working the phone as soon as he heard. He had spoken with Maryland governor Wes Moore, Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott, and White House chief of staff Jeff Zients by 5:00 a.m. Biden was briefed early that morning, before he began to reach out to state and local leaders. 

Baltimore County executive Johnny Olszewski told Tausche: “[Biden] demonstrated a clear understanding of the importance of the port, had a real empathy for myself and all the individuals impacted…. And he was unequivocal that he was going to do whatever he can, legally and within his power to expedite a response.”

The collapse of the bridge not only affected traffic around Baltimore, but also shut the Port of Baltimore. For 13 years, that port has led the nation in carrying cars and light trucks, as well as tractors and cranes, handling more than 847,000 vehicles in 2023. In that same year, the port handled more than 444,000 passengers and $80 billion worth of foreign cargo. The damage to the port is of national significance. 

Less than four hours after it received an official request for funding for repairs on March 29, the Department of Transportation authorized funds to begin to address immediate needs, which officials say is a record. The Army Corps of Engineers says it expects to restore a narrow navigation channel for use by the end of April and to have the port reopened fully by the end of May. Until then, the federal government is improving the infrastructure at nearby Sparrows Point to enable it to handle more ships. 

But the Republican Party remains committed to the idea that the government must be kept small and that private enterprise must be privileged over public investments. Today, the far-right House Freedom Caucus announced that it would not consider funding the bridge repairs until foreign shipping companies had paid in all they owe (Biden has called for funding the bridge immediately rather than waiting for insurance funds, which will come much later).  

They also say that they want the repairs to come out of money Congress has appropriated for other initiatives they dislike, that any new funds must be fully offset by other cuts, and that “burdensome regulations” such as labor agreements must be waived “to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs.” 

They are also demanding that Biden reverse the administration’s “pause on approvals of liquified natural gas export terminals” before Congress will consider any funding for the bridge reconstruction. In January, under pressure from climate activists, Biden paused the construction of such terminals. Liquid natural gas is a valuable export, but it is also made up primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas significantly worse for the planet than carbon dioxide. Oil and gas interests are strongly in favor of developing the liquid natural gas industry while ignoring its effects on climate change.

One of the proposed plants affected by the pause would have been the largest in the U.S. It is planned for Louisiana, the home state of House speaker Mike Johnson. Johnson has already tried to tie funding for Ukraine to lifting the pause on liquid natural gas export terminals, and the White House refused. Now, apparently, extremist Republicans are trying the same gambit with repairs to the Francis Scott Key Bridge and access to one of the nation’s most important ports, although slowing repairs at that key juncture will directly affect many of their constituents.  

Indeed, despite the solid demonstration that government support for ordinary Americans is the best way to build the economy, Republicans continue to maintain that the way to promote economic growth is to concentrate money among a few men at the top of the economic ladder. The idea is that those few people will invest their money more efficiently than the government can, and that the businesses they create will employ more and more workers. To that end, Republicans since 1981 have focused on tax cuts and deregulation in order to give those they see as job creators a free hand. 

That system, so-called “supply-side economics,” has never actually worked, but it has become an article of faith for Republicans. It is a system that is popular with the very wealthy, and Biden called that out today in a video he recorded with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

In the video, the two men comment on a video clip in which former president Trump, speaking at a private event, promises wealthy donors another tax cut. Biden says: “That’s everything you need to know about Donald Trump. When he thinks the cameras aren’t on, he tells his rich friends, ‘We’re gonna give you tax cuts.’” 

Sanders chimes in: “Can anybody in America imagine that at a time of massive income and wealth inequality—billionaires are doing phenomenally well—that he’s going to give them huge tax breaks? And then at the same time, he’s going to cut Social Security, Medicare, and programs that our kids need….”

“That makes me mad as hell, quite frankly,” Biden says. “There are 1,000 billionaires in…this country. They pay an average of 8.2% [in] federal taxes. So…we have a plan: Asking his good buddies to begin to pay their fair share.”

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