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A Quick Note On Naomi Klein and Joe Biden

I’ve always admired Naomi Klein since reading her terrific and insightful book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”   She has a NYT editorial column up yesterday, expounding on her prior theme in relation to Texas’s recent disaster, titled “Why The Republicans Fear The Green New Deal,” in which she wrote:

To explain this phenomenon, I often quote a guru of the free market revolution, the late economist Milton Friedman. In 1982, he wrote about what he saw as the mission of right-wing economists like him: “Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

That passage really struck me, and brought to mind President Biden.  For example, Pres. Biden recently unveiled an “ambitious” immigration reform plan that left many people scratching their heads because it seems politically untenable to pass.  Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post, who agrees with Biden’s approach, explains:

Republicans are going to ridicule the idea and will likely declare it dead on arrival. But they would subject a more modest proposal to the exact same treatment. Biden is right to start by demanding the reforms the country actually needs, rather than make some sort of tentative opening bid that leaves the situation of most resident noncitizens unaddressed.

. . . . [T]he Biden administration has shown a refreshing insistence on negotiating with the opposition rather than with itself. In seeking covid-19 relief, for example, Biden is asking for $1.9 trillion rather than some less eye-popping amount. When he lays out his plans for improving the nation’s infrastructure and making the transition to green energy, he is expected to request even more. Polls show that voters want bipartisanship and compromise — but the first crucial step in that process is defining the range of possibilities.

These two pieces furthered my admiration of the early Biden administration, particularly because we are, in fact, in the midst of two great crises: the pandemic and its economic consequences, and the implosion of the Republican Party as a reality-based governing party.  In addition, following decades of inattention, we face longer term and lesser, but important, other crises, including Climate Change, infrastructure, income inequality, immigration reform and attacks on voting rights and democracy.  (We are waist deep in crises.)

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So, as with for example immigration reform, and further to Ms. Klein’s insights, the Biden Administration is doing the good work of making sure that — at the very least — the right plans are “lying around.”  In other words, they are introduced and remain viable.  And that has a tremendous benefit in and of itself.   

No doubt the Biden Administration may not be sufficiently progressive or radical in all ( or, maybe, most) respects.  But I do think they are doing an admirable job in correcting the debate, introducing some necessary ideas, and reaching for accomplishments where they can in a narrowly divided government.

Bottom line: it is heartening to hear robust talk about Keynesian economics, infrastructure, climate change, immigration, health security, etc.  Too often in the past what we have heard on these subjects is that “it won’t pass” or “here is a weakened position to rally around.”   Too many decades of that has really injured the public debate.   

Biden, somewhat to my surprise, has been doing decent work correcting that.


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