Democrats must look beyond Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for 2024

The party’s historic deference to establishment candidates invites losing to Donald Trump

Janan Ganesh 

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House. It is not too soon for Democrats (and democrats) to start worrying about 2024 © Tom Brenner/Bloomberg

For weeks after she was sworn in as vice-president, an Italian restaurant in Washington displayed no fewer than 10 portraits of Kamala Harris across its patio. 

Spread over half a block, the pictures tracked her life from student to state office holder to next in line for the grandest job on Earth. 

Older Washingtonians can tell you if Dan Quayle received the same billing.

Harris’s case is an odd one. 

Democrats dearly want to believe she is a plausible winner of the White House in 2024, when Joe Biden will turn 82. 

At the same time, whispered qualms abound. Bad reviews of her public performances can be put down to taste. 

Gossip about strained relations with the president could be idle.

Harder to forget is the fact that she quit the party’s 2020 primaries early for lack of funds — some feat for a California senator. 

Among those who outlasted her was the mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city. 

At times, it is hard to know what is more troubling: that her presumptive-nominee status is fading, or that it is holding up.

It is not too soon for Democrats (and democrats) to start worrying about 2024. 

Absent health or legal trouble, a twice-impeached Donald Trump is the likeliest Republican candidate. 

If he is to lose again, the alternative will have to sell well in Michigan, Wisconsin and other decisive states. 

It is not clear that Harris or, after three more years of wear and tear, even Biden will meet that test. 

Everything about the Democratic party’s ingrained culture suggests it will field one of the two regardless.

In its internal politics, the party is not so much left or right as deferential. 

Biden and Hillary Clinton, its past two White House hopefuls, were the establishment or at least default picks. 

Al Gore in 2000, the outgoing vice-president, was another whose turn it simply was. 

John Kerry was the grandee in the so-so field of four years later. 

It took the lustre of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to buck the party’s innate drift to convention. 

No one of their gifts is likely to show up before 2024.

The liberal urge to curtsy goes beyond politics to culture. 

It was there in the fawning over “Camelot”, that tellingly feudal shorthand for the Kennedys in the 1960s. 

It was there in the idealised president of The West Wing, a Founding Father-descended moral giant and crack linguist who no doubt took stray cats in, too.

As odd as it was to walk past, the Harris portraits were of a piece with the wider need of liberals to make heroes of their leaders. 

For the most part, it is harmlessly weird. 

Every four years, it can cause political ruin. 

This is a party that would let Harris or a shrunken Biden fight the next election to avoid the unconscionable lèse majesté of a contested primary.

In normal times, the Democrats might be left to get on with it. 

But an election in which Trump is on the ballot is existential for the whole system of constitutional government. 

Exactly a year on from his defeat to Biden, he still disputes it. 

Were he to repeat the trick in 2024, there might be a Republican Congress to assist him. 

What passes for the party’s anti-Trump wing thins out by the month. 

Of the 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach him in January, two are standing down (“Eight to go,” says Trump).

In other words, mere victory over Trump is not certain to be enough: an incontestably large margin might be necessary. 

The Democrats have to put themselves in the minds of those legion voters who want to avoid a Trump revanche, but not at any cost. 

In the near term, that means taking immigration as seriously as the eternal saga of Biden’s spending bills. 

Before long, it will mean confronting the question of personnel.

A hotly contested primary in the incumbent party would be rare. 

A better candidate than Harris or a then octogenarian Biden (Trump, just three years younger, wears his age better) may not even be on hand. 

Whatever the teleologists say, a nation’s history can hinge on the right person showing up at an opportune time, or failing to. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: none of the mooted challengers emits a “person of destiny” aura.

But that has to be tested, not assumed. 

The alternative is that Trump faces a beatable opponent through sheer Democratic inertia. In scouting for a candidate, the party must be open-minded. 

The hopefuls must be sharp-elbowed. 

The stakes are as large as anything the party might legislate before then. 

Tuesday’s Virginia governor election has revived the trope that US politicians campaign too much and govern too little. 

Democrats should beware the inverse sin.

From role-model to cautionary tale

Chile’s voters are on the verge of a terrible mistake

Two extremists are leading in the polls for this week’s presidential election

For most of this century Chile was a stable and predictable country, with steady economic growth and moderate politics. 

Outsiders saw it as a success story and a model for Latin America. 

But that stable Chile disappeared two years ago, in an explosion of massive and sometimes violent protests. 

Discontent had built up and politicians seemed unable to deal with slower growth and narrowing opportunities, especially for younger people. 

A plan to hold a convention to write a new constitution calmed the protests and seemed to offer a peaceful solution to the sort of grievances that have afflicted many countries in recent years. 

But Chile has yet to recover its balance, as a polarised presidential election on November 21st is likely to show.

In a vote for the constitutional convention in May (in which only 43% turned out), support surged for the hard left while drying up for mainstream parties. 

As a result, the convention has become a theatre of wokeness, with calls to wage war against pivotal industries such as mining (accounting for over half of exports) and agriculture for export (more than 30%), alongside more justified demands for a bigger role for the state in pensions, health care and green regulation. 

Optimists say a realistic, modernising constitution can still emerge; pessimists fear a Utopian list of unaffordable rights and anti-capitalism.

Similarly, Gabriel Boric, the candidate of the hard left, has seemed poised to win the presidential election. 

A former student leader, he is a democrat. 

But some of his allies, who include the Communist Party, are not. 

Much of the left has failed to condemn the criminal violence of a hard core of protesters and has opposed the widely popular deployment of the army to quell a low-level insurgency among some Mapuche, an indigenous group in the south.

Mr Boric wants to expand tax revenues by 8% of gdp over six to eight years (impossible, say many economists) and review trade agreements in order to engage in industrial policy. 

The laudable intention is to diversify the economy, but by means that seem likely to do far more harm than good. 

Mr Boric might well prove to be more pragmatic than his programme suggests. 

But plenty of Chileans are alarmed by it and by his allies.

That is why support has grown for José Antonio Kast of the hard right. 

He has exploited fears of disorder, violence and uncontrolled immigration, offering a mano dura (a firm hand). 

His promise of big tax cuts just when Chileans want better services is as delusional as Mr Boric’s revenue target. 

Whereas Mr Boric promises the most left-wing government since the chaotic Socialist-Communist administration of Salvador Allende, Mr Kast offers the most right-wing one since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, whose crimes he sometimes denies. 

Neither offers the combination of stability, economic growth and reform that the country needs.

The seeming advantage of the extremes owes much to the discrediting of politicians from the two mainstream coalitions—and to their loss of self-belief. 

Some have embraced populist measures, such as letting workers spend 30% of their retirement savings, guaranteeing a future pensions crisis. 

None offers a convincing counter-narrative to the radicals. In fact, the past 30 years were far from the disaster they are now painted as.

The boast of Utopia

There are two moderate candidates, Yasna Provoste of the centre-left and Sebastián Sichel of the centre-right. 

Either, and especially Ms Provoste, would offer hope that Chile can draw back from its dangerous polarisation and find a new consensus. 

Chileans would be wise to vote for them, not least to provide an incentive to Messrs Boric and Kast to move to the centre if they reach the inevitable run-off next month. 

It is high time for Chileans to come to their senses, and see the merits of the moderate record that they are on the verge of disavowing. 

Supply chain disruptions are now holding back the recovery

Central banks are ill-equipped to counter the bottleneck slowdown

The editorial board

A global shortage of semiconductors held back sales at Germany’s Volkswagen, leading it to miss out on around €500m of profit © Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

Disruptions to supply chains have been visible for a while in higher prices. 

Now they have firmly made their presence felt in both corporate earnings and growth data. 

US and eurozone figures at the end of last week demonstrated that bottlenecks are holding back production at factories — and slowing the pace of the recovery. 

That has had a knock-on effect on industrial giants such as Germany’s Volkswagen and California’s Apple. 

Both told investors that a global shortage of semiconductors had held back sales, leading them to miss out on around €500m and $6bn of profit respectively.

For decades the goal of economic management, primarily delegated to central bankers, has been to keep the total amount of spending — or aggregate demand — growing in tandem with the capacity of the economy to provide the goods and services that consumers want, labelled aggregate supply. 

Keeping the two in balance is meant to preserve economic stability and stop price growth from accelerating, or decelerating, out of hand. 

The pandemic jolted both at the same time, reorientating consumer spending from services to goods that could still be enjoyed at home; closed gyms meant a scramble for exercise equipment, for example.

Today’s bottlenecks are a demonstration that demand has recovered much more quickly than supply. 

That reflects, in part, the success of stimulus programmes, and the uneven fight against coronavirus. 

While mass vaccination efforts in Europe and the US have allowed for something approaching normal life to resume, in many developing Asian countries that produce the goods western consumers want, outbreaks have shut factories.

Ultimately, this presents a challenge about which central bankers can do little. 

Inflation has risen and they have a legal duty to keep it under control. 

Consequently, many are beginning to scale back stimulus: on Friday the Australian central bank opted to cease defending its yield target for sovereign bonds, allowing the benchmark interest rate to start drifting upwards. 

It joins a club of major economies including New Zealand and Norway that have already started to tighten monetary policy. 

Investors expect the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank to follow suit soon.

While bringing demand down to match supply can keep price pressures in check, it is a much less satisfying solution — leading to lower growth and employment — than expanding supply. 

There are, however, no easy levers that policymakers can pull. 

While easy money and government spending can boost total demand, supply only grows slowly and governments have limited ability to influence it.

Business investment is the one part of economic demand, at least in the US, that is still lagging. 

That is a shame. 

Capital spending is the best way to keep supply growing and prevent bottlenecks from recurring or shortages from becoming permanent. 

Easy monetary policy, however, appears to have done more to boost asset prices than investment in industrial equipment or commercial buildings.

That could be down to the uncertain path of the recovery. 

Many businesses, just like central bankers, may be waiting to see whether the shortages are transitory or more permanent. 

Pulling the trigger on investment now could lead to excess capacity if they ease. 

Similarly if central banks tighten too quickly and demand is choked off, investment might be wasted. 

Generous tax relief for capital spending, along the lines of Britain’s “super deduction”, should be considered more widely. 

The best way to avoid bottlenecks is to get a wider bottle.

sábado, noviembre 20, 2021



Are Cities Finished?

Far from rendering cities obsolete, as some predicted early on, the pandemic has unlocked an ever-broader potential for renaissance – what the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” on an urban scale. The potential rewards are enormous, but there are also considerable risks.

Carlo Ratti, Richard Florida

PARIS – Rue de Rivoli, a boulevard running through the heart of Paris, has been developed in fits and starts. 

Napoleon Bonaparte initiated construction in 1802, after years of planning and debate, but work stalled following the emperor’s abdication in 1814. 

The boulevard remained in limbo until another military strongman, Napoleon III, completed the project in the 1850s. 

The next century, construction began again – this time, to accommodate cars. 

But this past spring, Rue de Rivoli experienced its fastest transformation yet.

With Paris traffic subdued by a COVID-19 lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo decided on April 30 to close the nearly two-mile-long road to cars, in order to create more space for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Workers repainted the road and transformed a major artery in central Paris – home of the world-renowned Louvre museum – virtually overnight.

It was not just Rue de Rivoli. 

Using only paint and screw-in markers, nearly 100 miles of Parisian roads were temporarily reallocated to cyclists in the early months of the pandemic – a revolution in urban reprogramming. 

It was later announced that the changes would become permanent.

The Parisian example highlights the extent to which the pandemic has accelerated the pace of urban innovation, compressing what would have taken years into months or even weeks. 

Beyond highlighting the flaws in pre-pandemic urban systems – such as high levels of pollution – it has allowed city leaders to bypass cumbersome bureaucracy, and respond much more efficiently to the needs of people and businesses.

Those needs are changing fast. 

One of the most discussed changes relates to the separation of home and work. 

In the early days of urbanization, people walked to work. 

Later, they began to take public transport. 

It was only after World War II and the rise of suburbanization that people began to drive cars from their homes to giant factory complexes and office towers.

During the pandemic, remote work has become the rule in many industries – and many companies plan to keep it that way, at least to a large extent. 

This re-integration of work and home threatens one of the last remaining vestiges of the Industrial Age: central business districts that pack and stack office workers in skyscrapers.

With many workers unlikely to return to their cubicles, old office towers may be transformed into much-needed affordable housing after the pandemic. 

One-dimensional business districts could become vibrant neighborhoods.

Non-work activities have been transformed as well. 

Dining, entertainment, and fitness have increasingly been moving into the open air, occupying space that used to be designated for cars. 

So, as with the bike lanes in Paris, the pandemic is creating prototypes for a permanently post-automobile, human-centric city. 

In fact, the changes in Paris are part of a broader plan to create a “15-minute city” (ville du quart d’heure), where core daily activities – including working, learning, and shopping – can be carried out just a short walk or bike ride from home.

So, far from rendering cities obsolete, as some predicted early on, the pandemic has unlocked an ever-broader potential for renaissance – what the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” on an urban scale. 

The crisis left governments with little choice but to adopt a fast-paced, trial-and-error approach. 

The extraordinary innovations in pedestrianization, affordable housing, and dynamic zoning that have emerged highlight the power of positive feedback loops.

Nonetheless, a Schumpeterian approach is fundamentally experimental, and even the best-designed experiments sometimes fail. 

Moreover, the costs of those failures are not borne equally: those with the least influence tend to suffer the most. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has disproportionately affected the poor and vulnerable.

In this new age of urban innovation, leaders must take great care to minimize the risks to – and redistribute the returns toward – disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. 

That means, first and foremost, listening to them. 

The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is a powerful example of a disadvantaged group demanding to be heard. 

Leaders everywhere should pay attention and address racial and class divides head on. Urban design is central to any such strategy.

To support this process – and help maintain flexibility and speed in urban innovation after the pandemic – leaders should consider creating participatory digital platforms to enable residents to communicate their needs. 

This could encourage policies that improve quality of life in cities – especially disadvantaged neighborhoods – including by limiting problematic trends like rising pollution and gentrification. 

Only with an agile and inclusive approach can we seize this once-in-a-century opportunity – or, rather, meet our urgent obligation – to “build back better.”

A stroll along Rue de Rivoli today reveals none of the desolation and dullness we have come to expect on city streets during the pandemic. 

Instead, the storied boulevard is bustling with masked Parisians, zooming along on bikes, scooters, e-bikes, and rollerblades, or pausing for coffee at cafes and restaurants. 

A street deadened by the pandemic has been revived. 

With thoughtful planning, bold experimentation, and luck, such transformations can be just the start for cities everywhere.

Carlo Ratti, Director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, is Co-founder of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati.

Richard Florida is University Professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management.