Evaluating the Biden administration

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here and a happy week to everybody. A little Quick Take, thought I would talk a little bit since we're closing in on the first year of the Biden administration. How do I assess it? And as you all know, I don't pull punches on this stuff. I say where I think they're doing a good job, where I think they're doing a bad job.


Maybe start with some things that I'm pretty aligned with. I certainly appreciate the high line focus on the American middle and working class, I mean, to the extent that there is going to be a big accomplishment, a signature accomplishment of the Biden administration in their first couple of years. Barring an unforeseen crisis beyond the pandemic we're already dealing with, it will be the trillions of dollars spent on infrastructure and on expanding the social contract. And when you look inside the bill and no, I haven't read all 2,400 pages, but yes, I've looked at all of the line items that the spend is being made on. I'm probably 90% aligned with the trillion plus in infrastructure, and probably 75% to 80% aligned with the spend on the social contract. That's pretty good. Does that mean no wastage? Of course not. It's the United States government. There's massive waste in everything that you spend, but there's massive waste in all sorts of different places. And that bothers me a little bit less given how large and how wealthy the economy is, how well the markets and the companies are doing, and even how comparatively low right now effective and real tax rates are in context of other G7 advanced industrial democracy. So it feels to me like we can certainly do more, and that's presuming he gets it done. Though I think he will get it done.

I'm not particularly concerned about the fight between the progressives, in the House on one side, and Senators Manchin and Sinema on the other, precisely because this is the one area where Biden's team is spending the most time. They understand, they know the people, they get how important it is, and they're prepared to make compromises. And they will. Now, those compromises will probably include the fact that the United States will not have anything that looks like an effective carbon tax. That's going to create a big problem with the Europeans going forward, who are planning on rolling out their own carbon border adjustment mechanisms. It means the Americans aren't going to look very good when it comes to a path to net zero in 2050, no matter what we say. It means that some of the gimmes are not going to get paid for, in terms of taxation, and you're going to need to use all sorts of gimmicks, and the effective deficit will continue to go up.

But those things happen all the time with Republicans and Democrats and on balance, assuming he gets it done, I think this is significant. It's not quite the new deal, but it's a big deal. And I think it will help to actually reduce the level of animus and political dysfunction that is being experienced by the average American citizen. Won't happen immediately. It'll take a long time to play through. We've been ignoring this for decades. This is really a work of a generation, but I think it matters. I will also say that I appreciate the pro-vaccine approach. It's very clear that because Delta variant was not yet around at the beginning of the Biden term, Republicans who had supported Operation Warp Speed quite successfully didn't feel like saying we're all in on vaccines. Instead felt like saying, "Well, yeah, vaccines are fine, but it's personal liberty. Take it, not take it, whatever," which is what Trump has done.

And then of course, Delta variant hits and it gets much worse as a consequence. I'm definitely on Biden's side of that equation. I want everyone taking vaccines. I think it's amazing that we have them and I want them rolled out as fast as possible. I like the mandates. I think he was too late on them, by the way, most of the private sector privately agrees with that even if they don't want to say it out loud, because they want to get everyone back to work as fast as possible. They hate these lockdowns. Now, I'm not so crazy about the masks at the same time. I think it should be everyone gets vaccines and everything is open. And yeah, you'll have some breakthrough cases, but you'll have relatively few and almost nobody getting sick, seriously sick, or dying. And that's a big deal.

That for me, would be having your cake and eating it too. And the Biden team has not communicated well on this. They've not coordinated well on this. Certainly there's been damage done to the CDC that now looks much more politicized. I don't think Biden's helped on that front, frankly. And there's been too much caution and conservatism around shutdowns, mask wearing and virtue signaling from Biden and his team in my view, but still I would on balance give them reasonably high marks.

I liked the pivot to Asia, the Quad, which started under Trump, but has rolled out more significantly under Biden. And China's putting pressure on for the Quad, not even to meet, but actually I thought that the announcement recently made on vaccines where the Americans offer the vaccines J&J, which we don't particularly need when we've got all the mRNA vaccines, which are two shots but more effective than J&J. The Japanese offer financing, the Australians offer logistics, and the Indians who finally have been able to produce enough vaccines for their own population, which is incredible given where they were a few months ago, are going to provide the production capacity.

You put those four countries together, all of which are basically responding to a growing China that wants to change the rules, and no one's really happy about that. And it's the most significant piece of US leadership under Biden. By the end of this year, you're going to have hundreds of millions of vaccines being produced and exported mostly to Asia, driven by the United States and increasingly allied countries in the Quad. That's a big deal. I'm very supportive of it. I am glad that there's a statement that we're not in a cold war, because we're not. Because the fact is that the economies of the United States and China are massively integrated and interdependent, even though there's no trust between the two countries and the relationship is getting worse.

And generally, appreciate the more intrusive regulations on industry, in an environment where special interest tend to capture the regulatory environment. I don't think they're going to last. It's all executive order. The next time you get somebody else in, they're going to undo it all. And none of this is happening through legislation, and big legislation pieces aside from the two to three trillion, really can't move. In that regard, role of special interest, growing role of the country, feeling like it is increasingly in the hands of those special interest, that's something that's been growing for decades now. Certainly since the 80s and the 90s, and I don't see that changing particularly under this administration. I also really don't like the American unilateralism, particularly with Europe, particularly with the Middle East, the idea that America knows best even when we don't, the pushing forward on human rights issues even when other countries would be a far better place to do that. The Americans need to be allowing allies that are more effective to have much more of a say and much more leadership, and we should be promoting them, but it's just not the way the US foreign policy establishment works. And the Biden demonstration is the foreign policy establishment.

I want more decisive leadership and more effective and consistent communications. And if it can't be from Biden because he's losing a step, then it needs to be from members of his cabinet. And that's really hard because they're all loyalists who, if they're not getting their marching orders directly from Biden, don't necessarily have a lot to say. And on the upside, you don't get any leaks and you got leaks all the time under Trump, but you're also getting less leadership, and I think that's a problem. So if I were to roll all of that up, it's okay. It's certainly not an A. It's probably about a B minus, right? That's probably where I am overall on Biden. Now, there are a lot of people out there that will give me hell for criticizing this president and they'll do it specifically because the last president was so horrible.

They'll do it because they think the country is in peril. I have a different view. My view certainly of Trump is that he was by far the most unfit leader of any democracy that I personally have encountered in my lifetime. And by the way, I'm kind of annoyed that people think that, saying that makes you a crazy committed anti-Republican, a partisan. I've thought that Trump was completely unfit as a human being when he was a Democrat. I was public about that. I leaned into that. This has nothing to do with Trump's ideology. Trump has no ideology. He's a narcissist who has no business running a country, but the fact that he won and was president and now is out there and is probably going to run again, and will probably be back at least on Facebook and who knows? Maybe on everything. And the media is still talking about him. And he's not acting like any other former president in withdrawing from political life and not making comments about existing presidents. No, he's doing the opposite. He's saying that the election was stolen, it was rigged, and we've got to take action. All of this crazy stuff that hurts the country. I mean, the next step that many people take is: Well that means that you have to support Biden no matter what. And I think that's a fair point if I thought that the country was truly on the precipice of dictatorship, of tyranny, and there's a real debate to be had over that. I don't actually believe that. I think the country, to the extent that there are serious things that are wrong with the country, they have less to do with Trump individually and more to do with decades of a small number of individuals, very powerful, very wealthy, doing their best to run the country for them.

And that's how we ignored climate change for 30 years with companies that knew exactly what they were doing and didn't care. Didn't care about the average human being, either in the US or around the world, didn't care about the state of the planet because they were making a lot of money. And that played out over a host of different policy issues across the entire country for decades is what is presently wrong. And I would say that becoming a partisan and throwing out suspending critical judgment of when you think that there's a good policy being put forward or a bad policy being put forward actively is a disservice, if that's the fight that's happening. Now, I do believe that if Trump runs again and he wins, this is going to get a lot worse. And even if Trump runs again and he loses, but he pretends he wins, which he will do, because that is the playbook, and does everything he can to undermine the electoral process, which is easier in the United States than many places because it's not a federal election system. It's state by state.

And many Trump supporters are now in positions of electoral oversight in key red states. At the state level, that's a problem and that can lead to violence and it will lead to a much uglier election process. And there could be a big fight over who the next president is, having nothing to do with who actually wins. I accept all of that. And yet I still don't think we're talking about the potential of the United States becoming a dictatorship. Instead, we're talking about the US becoming a more poorly-governed place, a more kleptocratic-oriented, poorly representative democracy. And in that regard, my bet is still, the important thing to do is be out there and be honest. It's call balls and strikes and say what you think. And I admit that if Trump had never been president, it would be much easier to say on balance Biden isn't doing all that well.

And you see that in the opinion polls, which are the lowest at this point in his presidency of any president other than Trump is since they started taking these polls. So certainly post Carter. And that I think is an objectively rigorous way to talk about this president. But you can't ignore that we just went through four years where there was basic insanity and complete partisanship and no middle in the country. And that is not something that we have suddenly put past us. It's still there. And the fact that Biden himself has been a moderate Democrat, centrist-oriented senator for decades, and that shows in his governance orientation, every day today is president. Whether it's he still wants Powell to run the fed, or he's not interested in defunding the police, or he hasn't done much with the green new deal. I mean, you can play these things out.

This is not social democracy under Biden, but the divisions, the core divisions in the country are still there. And not only are they still there, but they're much worse than any other wealthy democracies in the world today. And for all of those reasons, I think as much as it is understandable that I want to be able to be as objective as humanly possible when I'm talking about what I think about the Biden administration. I also think that you have to do that, being conscious of the context, both of what has just happened, but also what 2022 and 2024 are likely to look like. In other words, we are increasingly not just observers of international politics, but also truly participants because the American order and the global order are changing reasonably dramatically, far more than any time in my lifetime.

I talk a lot about the "GZERO" on the global space. I don't think that there is a "GZERO" inside the United States. There's no sort of US-Zero in terms of politics, but the institution certainly have eroded. And I think to criticize Biden, without being aware of those things in your head would also be a problem. So it's getting tougher. It's getting tougher to both appear on MSNBC and CNN and Fox, and talk about the same issues in the same way. It's getting harder. It's getting harder to discuss these issues with my followers and not alienate a significant proportion of them, no matter what you say.

But I've got a thick skin and I've been doing it for a long time, and I'm not particularly worried about the money. So that makes it a lot easier than someone who is just trying to make it for their first job and could get fired by somebody. So in that regard also, I think makes it more important that I try to lean into on the side of objectivity. But of course, objectivity is what I believe it to be. And that's different from your views. You can call me out on that too. Anyway, a few moments just on where I am right now. Hope everyone's doing well. And I'll talk to you all real soon.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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