Gina Raimondo: Neoliberal Superhero

Reading the newspaper of record’s article (“A Rising Star in the Biden Administration Faces a $100 Billion Test,” November 26, 2022), about Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, a casual observer might conclude that she is heroically fighting the good economic fight to squelch China’s tech industry and acting in support of the US semiconductor industry.

Raimondo was in Indiana to highlight the US government’s “stunning amount of money” going to states to support industries at the groundbreaking level of technology, and in this case, the company SkyWater. SkyWater may be an environmentally sound company and is a semiconductor manufacturing company, a tech product that has become the focus of the new Cold War with China.

Not a bad idea to support manufacturing in a state like Indiana that is one of the former manufacturing powerhouses in the US that were abandoned to globalization decades ago. Imagine if money went to developing alternative and ecologically sound manufacturing enterprises, or to a child tax credit as it briefly did during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic?

But, as a society, we can’t have social/economic engineering endeavors like support for children and their families or environmentally sound manufacturing when opportunities like worsening the new Cold War against China emerge in America’s heartland. One, if not the most important, principle of neoliberalism is to limit government spending and only spend when the predatory system of economic relationships here needs a boost. Recall the 2007-2009 bailout during the Obama administration that saved banks rather than people after the subprime mortgage collapse.

The government is betting almost $100 billion on the support of the US tech industry. Aren’t many of those tech giants already enjoying the benefits of a tax system that lets them get away without paying their fair share to the government at all levels, local, state, and national?

China’s leader Xi Jinping, accurately called the economic war, part of the larger new Cold War with China, “politicizing and weaponizing economic and trade ties.”

It’s not just China that Raimondo and Biden have had in their economic sights. My wife and I, along with thousands of other state workers in Rhode Island have felt the sting of Raimondo’s attack on public defined benefit pensions there that has left many financially strapped by that debacle of the past decade. Raimondo was the primary architect of the attack on public sector pensions when she was general treasurer of that state and eliminated the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in pensions, leaving pensioners a crumb or two over more than a decade of pension reductions.

Now that inflation is ripping through the economy, in part because of the Ukraine war, which Biden is the biggest billion dollar fan, the impact of Raimondo’s wrongdoing in RI, along with the former Governor Lincoln Chafee, the state legislature, and the rubber stamp of the state superior court, is hitting home like a tsunami. Former public sector employees like my wife and myself were legally entitled to a 3% yearly COLA, and we have received between $1,000 and $2,000 over a decade, a pittance compared to the original guarantee at the time of our retirement. Neoliberalism follows the right-wing playbook in these matters and changes the rules to screw the average Jane and Joe and that act is supported by most who have learned well that public is bad and private is good and that harm to ordinary people is a positive value.

At the RI superior court hearings on the elimination of the COLA, where I testified, some unions and some pensioners argued that the state couldn’t get proverbial blood from a stone to fund the pension COLA. The pension catastrophe in Rhode Island is one of the greatest anti-worker efforts in the US! Indeed, the RI model for screwing workers would be used across the US. A few recalcitrant unions and their members held out against this onslaught, but their efforts, while noble, were paltry when compared to the Wall Street crowd’s success in harming main street.

The Times only concern in the government’s backing of high tech is that the US is making a big gamble because the tech industry can fail, or at least some of its investments can fail. However, the article points out that Raimondo’s “work has earned her praise from Republicans and Democrats…” Such is the convergence of economic and political and social interests of the duopoly and their elite backers. Based on her work, “Her supporters say she could ascend to another cabinet position, run for the Senate or perhaps mount a presidential bid.” The latter deserves no comment from those who Raimondo has hurt the most. Imagine a retired teacher or retired police officer from RI who lives on his/her own and depends on a pension from the 1990s. There’ll be little support among that cohort for the ascendent Raimondo.

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has it right when she said Raimondo was “too solicitous of corporate interests.” Warren continued, “I have real concerns about the department’s [Commerce Department] approach, whether it’s approving assault weapons sales, negotiating trade deals or supporting big tech companies.” The Times calls Democrats such as Senator Warren “left-wing Democrats.” Someone here has got to be kidding!

The Times article is laughable when it reports that as Raimondo grew up in RI, “she saw Rhode Island’s schools and infrastructure begin to fray.” Once general treasurer of RI, the Times notes “she made changes to shore up the state’s pension system.” If a bank robber took millions in a heist, that person would be jailed for perhaps a life prison sentence, but when Raimondo reached into the pockets of public employees and took millions of dollars she was a neoliberal hero.

Raimondo said, in the Times article, that she believes in “reasonable regulation” of business and that corporations “will get greedy” unless those reasonable regulations are in place. Readers might wonder why she invested some pension funds with Wall Street investors while eliminating public workers’ pension COLAs. What’s next, being treated to a media briefing where Raimondo insists that the tooth fairy really exists?

The article in the Times reports that Raimondo is a champion of “America’s poor,” yet she allowed for the denial of legal COLAs to thousands of retired public employees. In Rhode Island, the latter was once called being full of shit! I recall playing baseball on sandlots by fairer rules as a kid in Rhode Island. But all the rules of doing business have changed under the neoliberals and the right wing.

The Times reports that Raimondo and her husband have a net worth of between $4 million and $12.5 million, quite a nice sum for someone with basic Rhode Island roots. Each time I put gasoline in a fuel-efficient car, or supplement oil for home heating, or even cut the lawn, I think of how my family has been burned and abused by the likes of Gina Raimondo!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).