At the moment of the crises, the United States has mainly deregulated and public services. Now, President Biden is proposing, among other things, universal child benefit and universal parental leave – and a majority of Americans support the proposals.
Stateside it is often repeated a saying that is usually claimed to be what Winston Churchill said: Never let a good crisis go to waste.
The idea is simple. The crisis is a turning point, when structures break down, people need change and, in any case, new things have to be built on smoky ruins. It’s just a matter of who seizes the opportunity.
As early as 1982, Milton Friedman, an American market guru, economist, wrote:
“Only a crisis – real or imagined – creates real change. And when that crisis arrives, the action to respond to it depends on what kind of ideas are ready for us. Herein lies our basic mission: to develop alternatives to prevailing practices and to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. ”
The United States the right course of economic policy followed Friedman’s advice successfully for a long time. Since the Reagan era, the country has been largely deregulated and public services and reduced taxes in times of crisis. More has been tried during the terms of the Democratic presidents, but the plans have been most effective with economic libertarians and the Conservative right.
That is why it is so revolutionary that in today’s crises, big ideas have been ready for the left. And that’s why it’s been so shocking to watch how politically impossible has become politically (almost) inevitable in a completely different direction.
Ten years ago, I began writing to the American public about the differences between the social systems of the Nordic countries and the United States. The U.S. left was thirsting for more information about public day and health care, community-funded family-free, and tuition-free universities.
Despite the interest, few believed the United States would ever really promote public services. I always heard the same arguments in the United States: the United States would never embrace benefits such as public day care or parental leave for all because U.S. policy is in the hands of the rich and corporations; because the majority of Americans are not in favor of such services; because the United States is too big, too diverse, too different to adopt European-type solutions. Not going to happen.
The same discouragement was heard on climate and environmental issues. The United States would not lead the world in the fight against climate change because the fossil fuel-based industry is too strong; because Americans love cheap gasoline; because climate change deniers ’grip on politics is too tight. Not going to happen.
Now I read U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposals for new infrastructure and family benefit programs, and there they are: huge investments in renewable energy and green technologies, universal child benefit, parental leave and money for all, publicly funded day care, and so on.
Not all of Biden’s proposals may materialize. But the fact that the proposals exist at this level and that, according to polls, the majority of Americans support them is in itself a tremendous example of how politically impossible can become politically inevitable in a relatively short time.
If implemented, the changes would be huge. For example, the new child benefit is estimated to halve American child poverty, which is now six times higher than in Finland. The ideas driven by Biden are based on the work of the American left. When the coronavirus crisis, the climate crisis, and the middle class crisis combined, plans were alive and available.
The author is a journalist and a writer.