Why isn’t there more debate over the Biden economic plan?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: “With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.”

The Democrats say they might be considering a carbon tax to fund their spending plans, and also to address climate change. You might have expected this news to be on the front page every day, and a dominant topic on Twitter and Substack. Isn’t the fate of the planet at stake, or perhaps an economic depression, depending on your point of view?

There was a lengthy and well-done article in the Washington Post on the political risks associated with this plan. It appeared on Page A21 of the paper edition.


The contrast with earlier but still recent times is obvious. As recently as Barack Obama’s presidency, there was a vigorous policy debate on just about every proposal. A fiscal stimulus of $800 billion? That one was hashed out for months, with detailed takes on the multiplier, the liquidity trap and the marginal propensity to consume, coming from all points of view. Then there was Obamacare, which led to even more passionate and detailed debate over the course of years. Who didn’t have an opinion about the “Cadillac tax” or the proper size of the mandate penalty?

And why has this shift occurred?:

One possibility is that the substantive conversations are occurring on private channels, such as WhatsApp, or in person. This leaves the public sphere a relatively empty shell. Another possibility, more depressing yet, is that the main debate is now about political power and tactics, rather than policy per se. Squabbles over symbols are more common than disagreements over substance, and the influence of various interest groups matters more than the strength of any argument.

Another possibility I did not mention is that perhaps (since DT?) the news cycle has been shifting so rapidly that it no longer very easily sustains this older-fashioned style of ongoing debate?  What might some other reasons be?


Comments for this post are closed