by Serge Halimi
Le Monde diplomatique
With his $1.9trn economic relief package (almost 10% of the US’s GDP), which is to be followed by a programme of investment in infrastructure, clean energy and education ($3trn over 10 years), Barack Obama’s former vice-president seems to have finally learned the lessons of history. And learned from the failure of his former boss who, being both too cautious and too centrist, failed to take advantage of the financial crisis of 2007-08 to push a new New Deal. ‘With the world economy in free fall,’ Obama concluded, ‘my number one task wasn’t remaking the economic order. It was preventing further disaster’ (1). Debt-obsessed Europe, meanwhile, set about inflicting a decade of austerity on itself, closing hospital beds as it went...
One of the most promising features of the Biden package is its universality. More than 100 million Americans have already received a Treasury cheque for $1,400. For a quarter of a century, most western states have made their social policies conditional on ever more stringent means testing, permanent surveillance, and punitive, humiliating employment ‘activation policies’ (2). As a result, people who no longer receive anything despite being in need are encouraged to hate public policies that they have paid for but which benefit someone else. Then, riled by the media, they come to believe they are subsidising cheats and freeloaders.
The Covid-19 crisis has interrupted that kind of talk. Work stopped so abruptly for so many workers, salaried and self-employed that blaming them for their situation would make no sense. In some countries, 60% of those who received pandemic-related emergency payouts had never received state aid before (3). The state stepped in quickly, without counting the cost and without means testing. For now, few complain, outside the financial press — and the People’s Republic of China.
Translated by George Miller
(1) Barack Obama, A Promised Land, Crown, New York, 2020.
(2) See Anne Daguerre, ‘Emplois forcés pour les bénéficiaires de l’aide sociale’, Le Monde diplomatique, June 2005.
(3) According to the consultancy BCG, quoted in The Economist, London, 6 March 2021.
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