Saturday, May 8, 2021

Can Bidenomics Fix the Democrats' Noncollege Problem?

I would say it is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. It is necessary because it is establishing an aggressive role for government in managing the economy and distributing more benefits more widely in a twin economic and health crisis. Assuming pandemic containment and a strong economic recovery this should help improve the Democrats' brand among those working class voters who have been doubtful Democrats have much to offer them.
However, for sufficient conditions to be met, two other things would have to be true.
1. Producing a temporary economic boom, pursuing more public investment and distributing some new benefits is not enough. It is also necessary for the next period of economic growth to diffuse to the various left-behind areas of the country so that the previous pattern of highly unequal regional growth is not replicated with attendant working class resentment.
As Neil Irwin noted in a recent Times article:
"For much of the United States, a demographic crisis and an economic crisis are two sides of the same coin. In many cities and regions, a shrinking population reduces the tax base, leading to underinvestment and deterioration of the physical environment and public services, causing even more jobs and people to go elsewhere.
Part of the aspiration of Bidenism — a through-line in the pandemic rescue plan already enacted, and in major proposals for spending on infrastructure and family support — is to break that cycle. Mayors and others focused on the development of places that have experienced economic and demographic languishing see a distinct opportunity to use federal money to fix problems long in the making.
There are inherent tensions. Spending money in places with a fast-growing population typically offers a surer economic return than spending it in those that are contracting.
The economic case for investing in places that have lagged in the modern economy relies on the possibility of reversing those negative trends and unlocking new growth. Many of those directly involved in that effort are downright giddy with the possibility that they can seize this moment to prepare their cities and towns for the future."
But if that possibility is not realized, the working class revolt against the Democrats is bound to continue, however well-intended Bidenomics may be.
2. Economics is important but it is not everything. Bidenomics does not necessarily do anything to solve the Democrats' cultural elitism. Unless Democrats can re-associate their national brand with universalism and patriotism instead of the boutique cultural issues and rhetoric that preoccupy their activists, the draw of right populism to working class voters will continue to be very strong and Democrats' noncollege problem with remain.
Democrats wish to comfort themselves that Bidenomics is a kind of magic elixir to bring back the working class to its historic party. It is not. The problem is too deep and profound for that.

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