Mark Twain once said, “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.”
It’s easy to be cynical, especially after years of tweet-driven, highly-partisan governance. But ever the optimist, my crystal ball sees some blue sky. Let’s take a look.
While senatorial elections in Georgia are still undecided, let’s assume Republicans remain in control of the Senate. President-elect Biden has many friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a circumstance. I didn’t inherit the economic or econometric genes of my Nobel Prize winning brother, but I think some things may be coming clear as we emerge from this last election cycle and hopefully from the pandemic in 2021.
First, I think a short-term stimulus is very likely during the lame-duck period before the first of the year. Biden’s influence in bringing the House and Senate to a compromise stimulus seems highly probable and should help small businesses, individuals and state governments. Make no mistake, above and beyond the efforts of our elected officials, the greatest stimulus will come with the proliferation of an effective virus vaccine. Since we live in an interconnected world, the resurgence of our economy will depend also on the efficacy of vaccine efforts around the world.
Second, my crystal ball also tells me that there’s a good chance for real progress on infrastructure legislation. There has been bipartisan interest in infrastructure for some time with disagreements only on costs. Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress will have to convince Republican peers that new spending on infrastructure will payout in jobs and downstream employment revenues.
Third, Biden’s purported strength is in multinational relationships, which makes me think that we can expect to see multilateral actions not only on trade, but also on climate change mitigation, human rights, and the propagation of the democratic creed, as a world suffering from economic downturns is tempted by the simplicity of populist promises.
Fourth, U.S. policy towards China is likely to stay the course with a tough continuance of tariffs. But make no mistake, the competition for global hegemony is clear. Harvard’s Graham Allison calls it the Thucydides Trap, referencing the drive by Sparta to overpower Athens in the Peloponnesian Wars. Specifically, it’s a reference to the threat of an emerging power to displace an existing great power. China is nipping at our heels and Biden has suggested a push for strong support for high-tech leadership, especially in chip technology, renewable energy, and dominance in artificial intelligence. That doesn’t have to mean an environment where we compete (and America can compete with anyone when we set our minds to it), but we can also work together on existential issues like climate change.
Much of what amounts to desirable progress depends on the alleviation of partisan gridlock, putting party behind country and exchanging that intrinsic energy for the dynamism necessary to compete for global leadership. In other words, our national “team” needs to be first among our tribes because we need that collective power to compete in a highly competitive global theater. It’s a case of simple reduction analysis to see that America’s strength is in its unfettered entrepreneurism and we need to release those entrepreneurial forces to leverage our strengths. Fighting amongst ourselves simply works to the benefit of our enemies.
Twain also said that “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” So let’s beat down this virus and compete for global leadership.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.