Biden Moves Away From Trickle-Down And Into Jobs

Heather Cox Richardson

Today, in Racine, Wisconsin, President Joe Biden announced that Microsoft is investing $3.3 billion dollars to build a new data center that will help operate one of the most powerful artificial intelligence systems in the world. It is expected to create 2,300 union construction jobs and employ 2,000 permanent workers. 

Microsoft has also partnered with Gateway Technical College to train and certify 200 students a year to fill new jobs in data and information technology. In addition, Microsoft is working with nearby high schools to train students for future jobs. 

Speaking at Gateway Technical College’s Racine campus, Biden contrasted today’s investment with that made by Trump about the same site in 2018. In that year, Trump went to Wisconsin for the “groundbreaking” of a high-tech campus he claimed would be the “eighth wonder of the world.” 

Under Republican governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin legislators approved a $3 billion subsidy and tax incentive package—ten times larger than any similar previous package in the state—to lure the Taiwan-based Foxconn electronics company. Once built, a new $10 billion campus that would focus on building large liquid-crystal display screens would bring 13,000 jobs to the area, they promised. 

Foxconn built a number of buildings, but the larger plan never materialized, even after taxpayers had been locked into contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrading roads, sewer system, electricity, and so on. When voters elected Democrat Tony Evers as governor in 2022, he dropped the tax incentives from $3 billion to $80 million, which depended on the hiring of only 1,454 workers, reflecting the corporation’s current plans. Foxconn dropped its capital investment from $10 billion to $672.8 million.  

In November 2023, Microsoft announced it was buying some of the Foxconn properties in Wisconsin.

Today, Biden noted that rather than bringing jobs to Racine, Trump’s policies meant the city lost 1,000 manufacturing jobs during his term. Wisconsin as a whole lost 83,500. “Racine was once a manufacturing boomtown,” Biden recalled, “all the way through the 1960s, powering companies—invented and manufacturing Windex…portable vacuum cleaners, and so much more, and powered by middle-class jobs.

“And then came trickle-down economics [which] cut taxes for the very wealthy and biggest corporations…. We shipped American jobs overseas because labor was cheaper. We slashed public investment in education and innovation. And the result: We hollowed out the middle class. My predecessor and his administration doubled down on that failed trickle-down economics, along with the [trail] of broken promises.” 

“But that’s not on my watch,” Biden said. “We’re determined to turn it around.” He noted that thanks to the Democrats’ policies, in the past three years, Racine has added nearly 4,000 jobs—hitting a record low unemployment rate—and Wisconsin as a whole has gained 178,000 new jobs. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act have fueled “a historic boom in rebuilding our roads and bridges, developing and deploying clean energy, [and] revitalizing American manufacturing,” he said. That investment has attracted $866 billion in private-sector investment across the country, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs “building new semiconductor factories, electric vehicles and battery factories…here in America.” 

The Biden administration has been scrupulous about making sure that money from the funds appropriated to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and manufacturing base has gone to Republican-dominated districts; indeed, Republican-dominated states have gotten the bulk of those investments. “President Biden promised to be the president of all Americans—whether you voted for him or not. And that’s what this agenda is delivering,” White House deputy chief of staff Natalie Quillian told Matt Egan of CNN in February. 

But there is, perhaps, a deeper national strategy behind that investment. Political philosophers studying the rise of authoritarianism note that strongmen rise by appealing to a population that has been dispossessed economically or otherwise. By bringing jobs back to those regions that have lost them over the past several decades and promising “the great comeback story all across…the entire country,” as he did today, Biden is striking at that sense of alienation.

“When folks see a new factory being built here in Wisconsin, people going to work making a really good wage in their hometowns, I hope they feel the pride that I feel,” Biden said. “Pride in their hometowns making a comeback. Pride in knowing we can get big things done in America still.” 

That approach might be gaining traction. Last Friday, when Trump warned the audience of Fox 2 Detroit television that President’s Biden’s policies would cost jobs in Michigan, local host Roop Raj provided a “reality check,” noting that Michigan gained 24,000 jobs between January 2021, when Biden took office, and May 2023.

At Gateway Technical College, Biden thanked Wisconsin governor Tony Evers and Racine mayor Cory Mason, both Democrats, as well as Microsoft president Brad Smith and AFL-CIO president Liz Schuler. 

The picture of Wisconsin state officials working with business and labor leaders, at a public college established in 1911, was an image straight from the Progressive Era, when the state was the birthplace of the so-called Wisconsin Idea. In the earliest years of the twentieth century, when the country reeled under industrial monopolies and labor strikes, Wisconsin governor Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette and his colleagues advanced the idea that professors, lawmakers, and officials should work together to provide technical expertise to enable the state to mediate a fair relationship between workers and employers. 

In his introduction to the 1912 book explaining the Wisconsin Idea, former president Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, explained that the Wisconsin Idea turned the ideas of reformers into a workable plan, then set out to put those ideas into practice. Roosevelt approvingly quoted economist Simon Patten, who maintained that the world had adequate resources to feed, clothe, and educate everyone, if only people cared to achieve that end. Quoting Patten, Roosevelt wrote: “The real idealist is a pragmatist and an economist. He demands measurable results and reaches them by means made available by economic efficiency. Only in this way is social progress possible.”

Reformers must be able to envision a better future, Roosevelt wrote, but they must also find a way to turn those ideals into reality. That involved careful study and hard work to develop the machinery to achieve their ends. 

Roosevelt compared people engaged in progressive reform to “that greatest of all democratic reformers, Abraham Lincoln.” Like Lincoln, he wrote, reformers “will be assailed on the one side by the reactionary, and on the other by that type of bubble reformer who is only anxious to go to extremes, and who always gets angry when he is asked what practical results he can show.” “[T]he true reformer,” Roosevelt wrote, “must study hard and work patiently.” 

“It is no easy matter actually to insure, instead of merely talking about, a measurable equality of opportunity for all men,” Roosevelt wrote. “It is no easy matter to make this Republic genuinely an industrial as well as a political democracy. It is no easy matter to secure justice for those who in the past have not received it, and at the same time to see that no injustice is meted out to others in the process. It is no easy matter to keep the balance level and make it evident that we have set our faces like flint against seeing this government turned into either government by a plutocracy, or government by a mob. It is no easy matter to give the public their proper control over corporations and big business, and yet to prevent abuse of that control.”

“All through the Union we need to learn the Wisconsin lesson,” Roosevelt wrote in 1912.

“We’re the United States of America,” President Biden said today, “And there’s nothing beyond our capacity when we work together.”

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