If any media folk are still interested in “fact-checking” presidents after the Trump era, they’ll have plenty of fodder from Tuesday night’s appearance by President Joe Biden on CNN. A favorite Biden habit is to appeal to the authority of economists, many of whom remain unnamed, to suggest that his policies are wildly popular among experts. And what would we do without anonymous experts?
Newsweek has a transcript of the event in which CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted our 46th president at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater. Here’s an excerpt:
COOPER: You’ve made passing a COVID relief bill the focus of your first 100 days. Those on the right say the proposal is too big. Some on the left say it’s not big enough. Are you committed to passing $1.9 trillion bill or is that final number still up for negotiation?
BIDEN: I’m committed to pass — look, here’s — some of you are probably economists or college professors or you’re teachers in school. This is the first time in my career — and as you can tell, I’m over 30 — the first time in my career that there is a consensus among economists left, right, and center that is over — and including the IMF and in Europe, that overwhelming consensus is, in order to grow the economy a year, two, three, and four down the line, we can’t spend too much.
Thank goodness this statement is not accurate. There is not an “overwhelming consensus” among economists that no amount of federal spending is excessive. This column is often skeptical of conventional expert opinion. But even for those who aren’t, the Biden economic plan is notable for the way it has drawn criticism not just from economists in the center and on the right but from Mr. Biden’s own former colleagues on the left. Many of the critiques specifically warn that he is indeed spending too much taxpayer money on a recovering economy which does not need another massive intervention.
Last month this column noted the criticism of Bidenomics from veterans of the Obama economic team. More recently one of the Biden plan’s enthusiastic backers also acknowledged the resistance coming from liberal economists. John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker:
If there were any doubt that Joe Biden’s economic proposals represent a big break with the policies of the Obama and Clinton Administrations, the debate about Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief plan dispelled it. For good or ill—and, in my view, it is very positive—the Biden White House is pursuing a bold and aggressive program of Keynesian economic management, the likes of which Washington hasn’t seen since the nineteen-sixties.
The argument began, last week, with a warning about the Biden plan from Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist who served as the Secretary of the Treasury toward the end of the Clinton Administration and as the director of the White House National Economic Council during Obama’s first term. Whatever good the Biden spending package might do in boosting output, wages, and profits, Summers wrote in the Washington Post, it was so large that it could also “set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the dollar and financial stability.” Over the weekend, Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, seconded Summers’s concerns, tweeting, “The 1.9 trillion program could overheat the economy so badly as to be counterproductive.”
One can usually count on massive federal programs to be counterproductive, such as the one Mr. Biden helped oversee as Vice President in 2009 and which he reasonably described on Tuesday as “the last experiment we had with stimulus.” Unreasonably for taxpayers, the experiment failed as the plan burned through more than $800 billion and failed miserably to reach its employment goals.