Biden infrastructure plan would boost jobs; Georgia voter law tensions

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

What specifics do you expect to be in Biden's "build back better" infrastructure plan?

Well, this is really a two-part plan. The first part Biden's rolling out this week, and it's focused mainly on infrastructure. Bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, the whole infrastructure smorgasbord, including on broadband deployment, as well as investing in things like rural hospitals, schools and upgrading buildings to be more energy efficient. Biden's proposed between $2 and $2.5 trillion depending on how you do the math, paid for by tax increases primarily falling on the corporate sector that actually spread out over 15 years, as opposed to the bill's spending, which spreads out over 10. That means the bill will be mildly stimulative to the economy on top of creating potentially new jobs through the direct spending that's going to happen.


The tax increases are focused largely on corporate America, higher corporate tax rate, changes in the way US taxes its multinational corporations, and other changes that come on the individual side, which will be primarily used to fund the second half of the plan, which is going to be focused on more of a human services element. These are things like education, healthcare, subsidies for daycare, universal pre-K, community college, and other things that the Biden administration contends have to be invested in to keep the American economy going. Now, these tax increases are going to be really controversial with Republicans, which means you're probably not going to see a lot of Republicans vote for this. But Democrats are pretty aligned around doing something big and meaningful in advance of the 2022 midterms. So both of these bills probably pass into law before the end of the year.

What's going on with the Georgia voter law?

Well, in the wake of a 2020 election, where President Trump claimed there was widespread fraud, Republican politicians are now moving across the country to roll back some of the expansions that were done during the coronavirus pandemic to make it easier to vote. In Georgia, this has meant curtailing the ability to vote on Sundays, it's meant requiring a photo ID, and it's meant limiting to some extent, the ability to apply for an absentee ballot. Most of these changes are rolling the voting rules back by a couple of years. This is not the apocalyptic changes that the Democrats have been claiming, but the Democrats are really motivated to stop all of this from happening because they want to open up voting and make it as easy as possible for their constituents to get out. They typically do better at higher turnout elections. Republicans typically do better in lower turnout elections.

So for Democrats this is really, for both parties, this is really considered an existential threat, and the voting rules are going to be a really important battleground over the next 12 to 18 months. At the federal level, the Democrats are pushing a bill, H.R. 1, that would fundamentally alter the way elections are conducted in this country, including by changing money in politics and eliminating partisan gerrymandering, by requiring each state to use a nonpartisan commission to draw the districts for the House of Representatives. If it passes, and I don't think it will because it would require today 60 votes in the Senate, but if it were to pass, it would be a big structural shift towards the Democrats in US elections.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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