Joe Biden knows that he is a one-term president. That is his strength.
When he took over the US presidency in January, Biden made his way to the Oval Office, sat down, and began issuing executive order after executive order.
As I wrote back in June for this site: “He sat down at the Resolute desk on the day of his inauguration and unleashed, over two days, a flood of 17 executive orders. He had the US re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organisation, ended the state of emergency at the US-Mexico border, and stopped the Keystone XL pipeline in its tracks.”
Biden has continued in this vein for a while, positioning himself as a transformative president, one who is not afraid to lead on, and take the risks for, big policy. Some thought, when he first announced that he would run, that he was too old and too conservative to be the transformative president that was needed. It seemed common knowledge that he would be hindered by his age.
So far, the opposite has been true. Biden’s age has been his strength, in that—at 78 and counting—he knows that a second term is probably out of his reach and, consequently, is going at his presidency with all the abandon of a drunken sailor on a truncated shore leave.
Case and point
Look at last week when he took aim at Big Tech, pledging through another executive order to level the playing field.
In Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, the current administration talked about the inequality of corporate consolidation. It said: “In total, higher prices and lower wages caused by lack of competition are now estimated to cost the median American household $5,000 per year.”
It added: “Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation. The rate of new business formation has fallen by almost 50% since the 1970s as large businesses make it harder for Americans with good ideas to break into markets. There are fewer opportunities for existing small and independent businesses to access markets and earn a fair return. Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen.”
Biden quickly sets out his stall with talk of the ‘little guy’.
As the factsheet continues: “When past presidents faced similar threats from growing corporate power, they took bold action. In the early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt’s Administration broke up the trusts controlling the economy—Standard Oil, JP Morgan’s railroads, and others—giving the little guy a fighting chance. In the late 1930s, FDR’s administration supercharged antitrust enforcement, increasing more than eightfold the number of cases brought in just two years—enforcement actions that saved consumers billions in today’s dollars and helped unleash decades of sustained, inclusive economic growth.”
What will the Biden administration do? Well, it is polite enough to tell us.
“[This] Executive Order established a whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy,” they say. “The Order includes 72 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies to promptly tackle some of the most pressing competition problems across our economy. Once implemented, these initiatives will result in concrete improvements to people’s lives.”
Among the actions to be taken are a ban or limit on non-compete agreements; a lowering of prescription drug prices along with loosening the import of drugs from Canada; allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter; banning some fees from internet providers, while forcing them to clearly disclose plan costs; loosening the beaurocracy to get a flight refund; and limiting manufacturers from barring third-party repairs of their products.
There are also decrees around having customers be able to transfer their financial data, preventing abuse from some meat processors, and directing federal agencies to better promote competition through procurement and spending.
Toothless or gently does it?
That is a lot, and there is some cynicism as to how effective this will be. James Clayton of the BBC said that Biden was on the ‘warpath’, but added, “These executive orders, though, lack teeth. They aren’t going to suddenly usher in a new competition regime. But it’s the clearest direction of travel we’ve seen yet from the president. Biden thinks Big Tech is too big, and he wants to do something about it.”
The most-interesting point of all this is that Biden is going after Big Tech in the context of the consumer and consumer goods. That is a marked shift in thinking from trickle-down economics that prioritises the wealthy, high-earners, and big corporations on the belief that good fortune for them will eventually trickle down to others. Instead, we have billionaires attempting to outdo each other in a pointless race to leave a burning planet while inequality races ahead.
If Biden continues in this vein, will he and his people take a closer look at financial services and the way large funds make and manage their investments?
I wrote for Expert Investor recently about whether investing in student property or investing in property where there is a housing crisis is sound or ethical. And, as I wrote about GameStop recently, there is a surge of support for those on the ground taking aim at—and downing—financial firms.
Biden is rapidly becoming a populist president, intent on enacting policies that his predecessor falsely rang the bell for. The question is, now he has a taste for doing so, whether he will keep on finding targets to take aim at. And if he does so, which ones will he choose and how many times does he intend to pull the trigger.