A Litany of Progressive Failure

Pretty much no matter where you look, Joe Biden and his fellow progressives have produced a string of catastrophic policy failures. In fact, a policy success—defined as something that actually produces a net benefit—is nowhere to be found. Which makes all the happy talk coming from the White House  somewhat puzzling. Unless the White House strategy represents a combination of cluelessness and prevarication. 

Consider the state of the macroeconomy. Based on the preliminary figures published yesterday, the U.S. just experienced two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth—which is to say that the economy shrank for the first half of the year. Two consecutive quarters of negative growth is the basic definition of recession. But don’t take my word for it—take the word of Brian Deese, currently President Biden’s Chair of the National  Economic Council. 

Back in 2008 while acting as an advisor to Hillary Clinton, Dr. Deese said “Economists have a technical definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.” But now that the Biden Administration is presiding over a recession brought on by poor policy, that definition doesn’t count anymore. Deese now argues that “Two negative quarters of negative growth is not the technical definition of “recession”. We are instead in “a transition”. See these Tweets.

It isn’t like this attempted sleight-of-hand is a one-off.  It is has become standard procedure for progressives as they vainly try to explain away their cascading policy failures. Take the inflation problem for instance. At first they denied that inflation was on the rise. Then when the evidence of rising inflation became indisputable they defined it as merely “transitory”. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, tweeted that inflation was a “high class problem” not something we should worry about.  

Now that inflation, and expectations for future inflation threaten to embed themselves in the American psyche, the Biden brigade has all of a sudden become a rhetorical  inflation fighter. Not that they will actually do anything to alter the destructive policies they implemented that contribute to inflation. Not at all. They continue to press on with regulatory policies that constrain supply, particularly with respect to fossil fuels, thereby placing upward pressure on production costs and prices.  

But that is not all. The supply side of the equation is only part of the story. The demand side is important as well. The first villain of the piece is the Fed which fell way behind the curve. Their failure to raise interest rates much earlier in the cycle allowed inflation and inflation expectations to take root. Just as important was the Fed’s decision to rapidly expand its balance sheet by buying trillions of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. 

This monetization of the debt had the effect of letting Congress off the hook. Congress would no longer be constrained in its financing needs by the bond market; the Fed proved to be the ultimate price-insensitive buyer. From March 2020 to  June 2022 the Fed increased its holdings of longer dated Treasuries from just over $2 trillion to about $5 trillion. (See the Peter G. Peterson Foundation for these data.) And these figures don’t include TIPS or mortgage securities. If you want to know why the long end of the Treasury market has held up as well as it has despite soaring inflation—this is why. 

Let’s not stop with the macro-economic disaster engineered by utopian progressives. Let’s take a look at some other domestic policy “accomplishments”. There is for instance the “defund the police” movement, accompanied by progressive district attorneys in deep blue cities (San Francisco, LA, New York) who refuse (or refused) to prosecute what most people would describes as serious offenses against public order. And plenty of deep blue cities did in fact reduce their police budgets. That was quickly followed by sharp upward spikes in often violent crime and public disorder. That’s the very definition of policy failure. 

How about eduction? Using the pandemic as an excuse, the Teachers Unions in Democratic strongholds successfully advocated for public school closures and lockdowns of various kinds—with teachers salaries being paid, of course. The net effect was tremendous learning loss and mental health problems among young people, the social implications of which are only now coming to light. 

In the meantime, as more and more social science papers are published analyzing the impact of all this two things are becoming crystal clear. First, school closures and lockdowns had virtually no impact on the spread of COVID. Second, low-income students suffered the most from learning loss and mental health problems. 

In the meantime, there has been an exodus from the public schools to private ones and to home schooling. Private and parochial schools that (mostly) stayed open during the pandemic did not have statistically different COVID outcomes, but they did have learning and mental health outcomes that were generally superior to their public school counterparts.

Parents took notice both of this and something else as well. That something else was what their children were being taught in school—which was not just reading, writing and arithmetic. Children in public schools were being indoctrinated in the latest academic fads. Parents could see what was going on in the classrooms compliments of Zoom and they didn’t like it one bit. That spurred a revolt that got Glenn Youngkin elected governor in Virginia and a first time ever Republican polling advantage in education to the tune of 20 points. 

By almost any measure, progressive educational policy has been a catastrophic failure. 

Let’s not forget the Southern border. Since Biden took the oath of office, there has been a consistent and significant rise in illegal border crossings. Early in the game President Biden argued that the increase was merely seasonal. That lie was quickly exposed as illegal border crossings increased by record amounts month-by-month.  For the record, I happen to believe that we should have a much more open immigration policy and that Congress should enact one. But the President is supposed to enforce the law as it is written, not a policy regime based on wishful thinking. 

There is foreign policy as well. One year ago we were treated to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that the Biden Administration characterized as a great success. That withdrawal was carefully observed by Russia, China, Iran and a whole host of adversaries who justifiably concluded that Biden was a weak leader who could be easily pushed around. Six months later Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, starting the first land war in Europe since the end of WW2. 

What was the Biden Administration response? In a vain (and doomed) effort to stop the invasion the Biden Administration insisted on announcing to Putin what we would not do in response.  Further, slowly at first the Biden Administration began to send arms to Ukraine so it could defend itself. Then it imposed sanctions on Russia and some oligarchs. But the Administration has failed to enunciate an objective for all this. If the object was to stop the invasion, it failed. If the object was to dethrone Putin–that has failed as well. If the object is to defeat Russia, it’s hard to see how that is going to happen when Russia still possesses a whole lot of nuclear weapons.

Some politicians in the U.S. — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. CA) comes to mind—have insisted that “victory” is the only possible outcome. Victory is, of course, undefined. President Biden himself has characterized Putin as a war criminal and opined that Putin should not remain in power in the Kremlin. As usual his staff was quickly deployed to backtrack.

Now the war in Ukraine is apparently stalemated and frozen place. If so, that leaves the U.S. in the position of constantly supplying weapons and intelligence to the Ukrainians with little hope of resolution any time soon. In the meantime Russia is making far more from its energy exports than it did before the U.S. imposed sanctions. And Russia has significantly tightened the spigots on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, squeezing their economy and its citizens. In the meantime, some German cities, Hanover especially, have begun to ration hot water as a countermeasure. As measures like these inevitably expand, it is hard to see how the U.S. is going to maintain solidarity with its sanctions partners. 

Especially as the U.S. goes hat-in-hand to places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia pleading with them to produce more oil even as the U.S. restricts fossil fuel production at home. Needless to say, Saudi Arabia not only refused Biden’s entreaties but also publicly humiliated Biden who had promised to make the country a “pariah state”. 

Meanwhile according to news reports Biden and China’s Xi Jinping have told aides to begin planning for an in person meeting. Even so, China is increasingly aggressive in its rhetoric about Taiwan. In the interim the Biden Administration, weak in the knees as usual, is leaning on Speaker Pelosi to cancel her planned trip to Taiwan so as not to displease Xi. 

When all is said and done, the Biden record of being on the wrong side of every question remains unblemished. It is replete with policy failure. Moreover it is difficult to identify a single policy success that truly is a success in that the benefits exceed the costs.

We have another 2 years to go with this ward heeler. The challenge we face today is to first contain the damage.  Then begins the long hard work of rebuilding our institutions, repairing the culture and re-establishing rationality and limited government. It’s going to take a while.


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