It’s the Lucid Biden Who Worries Me

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

For at least some of us watching the Biden-Trump debate last week it was the lucid Biden who was scariest. (Of course, Trump is scary too, but for different reasons and in different ways.)

+ Ukraine.  Trump wants the Russians and Ukrainians to negotiate an end to their war.  Biden opposes that.   If Ukraine agrees to negotiate peace, Biden says, Russia will then attack Poland and Belarus too    This is, of course, the domino theory that kept the Vietnam war going for 20 years.  Trump then argued that financing and feeding the war would lead to WW3, but Biden isn’t worried.  NATO will deter Russia, he explained, as if Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine despite Biden’s threats and because of NATO, has not already happened.

+ Israel.  Biden devoted his time to highlight his unconditional support of Israel, laying all of the blame on the continued butchering of the Palestinian people and the destruction of Gaza on Hamas.   This makes us a partner to genocide.

Biden has turned out to be a war president, and the Democratic party is now the party of war.  And they scare me.

+ Inflation.  Regardless of its cause, inflation has an instant remedy:  A higher minimum wage and a law that grants workers of large employers wage adjustments that are tied to their employer’s profits.   Between January 2020, the start of the pandemic, and January 2024, the average wage of non-supervisory employees increased by 24%, a figure that appears to be high and that the Fed uses to justify raising the interest rate; but over this period prices increased by 20%, leaving workers with a 3.6% real increase in wages or less than 1% a year.  Corporate profits, on the other hand, increased by 57% over the same period, 32% in real dollars–an increase that is due, at least in part, to the low wages they pay their workers.

There is no doubt that Biden is a pro-labor president.  He wants to raise the minimum wage and he is pro-union.  But now, at a time when all eyes are on inflation, the president needs to refocus the discussion on the real issue:  wages that compensate workers for inflation and that reflect their contributions to the profits of their employers.  The Fed wants to tame inflation by lowering wages, but the real task is to tame corporations and raise wages.

+ Immigration.   Trump’s wildest and most dangerous lie is that illegal immigrants are criminals.  The fact is that the rate of crime committed by illegal immigrants is lower than the rate of crime committed by legal residents (the US born and legal immigrants).  This means that for every crime committed by an illegal immigrant against a legal resident there are more crimes committed by legal residents against illegal immigrants.  In other words, illegal immigrants take blows that had they not been here, would have fallen on legal residents instead.  Trump can utter his vitriol because unlike crimes by illegal immigrants against legal residents, crimes in the opposite direction do not make the headlines.

Trump also claims that immigrants steal “black jobs.”   But black unemployment and total unemployment have been at historically low levels under both the Trump and the Biden administrations, and it is clear that the focus on immigration is just a diversion from the real problem of low wages.

But immigration is the result of dire economic conditions in the immigrants’ home countries, and both presidential candidates should have addressed this issue, because to some degree these economic conditions are the result of US foreign policy.  Venezuelans make a very large fraction of the immigrants trying to get in.   The US has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, and technically these sanctions have been successful:   the Government Accountability Office found that they have worsened the economic conditions there.  But this has not moved Venezuela toward democracy; all it has done is to force workers to leave their country.   Economic sanctions should be stopped.

Another debate is coming.  Will Biden be able to say what he intends to say this time?  As we saw in the first debate, his actual intentions are even more problematic than his inability to express them.

Moshe Adler teaches economics at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (The New Press, 2010),  which is available in paperback and as an e-book and in Chinese (2013) and Korean (2015) editions. Visit the Economics for the Rest of Us channel.