Biden’s $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is Inadequate


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Source: Democracy Now!

We speak with economist Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute on Race and Political Economy at The New School, about how U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling for a minimum global corporate income tax to help pay for President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, aimed in part at combating the climate crisis and addressing racial inequities in housing and transportation. The plan includes over $650 billion for roads, bridges, railways and ports; $650 billion to expand broadband, retrofit homes and upgrade water systems and the electrical grid; $400 billion for “home- or community-based care” for the elderly and people with disabilities; and $300 billion for domestic manufacturing. “The good news is the conception of infrastructure has been expanded to include human infrastructure, as well as addressing the environment, beyond just traditional bridges and roads,” says Hamilton, but he adds the bill is still too small to properly address the economic problems facing the United States. “The scale of the problem and the size of the bill is incongruent.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling for a minimum global corporate income tax to help pay for President Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. Yellen spoke at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Monday.

TREASURY SECRETARY JANET YELLEN: Another consequence of an interconnected world has been a 30-year race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. … President Biden’s proposals, announced last week, call for bold domestic action, including to raise the U.S. minimum tax rate, and renewed international engagement, recognizing that it’s important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition and corporate tax base erosion. We’re working with G20 nations to agree to a global minimum corporate tax rate that can stop the race to the bottom.

AMY GOODMAN: Treasury Secretary Yellen’s remarks come as part of a broader push by the Biden administration to promote the president’s proposed infrastructure plan. During a speech Friday, Biden criticized corporations that fail to pay taxes — that pay no taxes at all.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is an economic opportunity for those who’ve helped build the country and have been ignored or neglected for much too long by our government. It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in our economic future, a chance to win the future, paid for by asking big corporations, many of which do not pay any taxes at all, just to begin to pay their fair share.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Biden’s $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal and his plans to fund it, we’re joined by Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics at The New School, where he’s also founding director of the Institute on Race and Political Economy. He served as economic adviser to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Professor Hamilton, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you assess this infrastructure plan, everything from highways and failing bridges to elder care and child care, and racial justice issues, that people don’t usually associate with an infrastructure proposal?

DARRICK HAMILTON: Yeah. I mean, the good news is the conception of infrastructure has been expanded to include human infrastructure, as well as addressing the environment. So, you know, beyond just traditional bridges and roads, which are in dire need of investment in America, we’re also talking about in trying to make it so that people can have access to care and, further, that those workers who deliver that care receive adequate wages, adequate benefits, and work in adequate working conditions. That’s an example. There’s also a great amount of investment directed at improving our environment, as well as public infrastructure, like broadband access, making sure that everyone has access to broadband in the 21st century. Those are some of the really good things in the bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, but what about some of these details? Because we’re talking about sums of money unheard of in the past in terms of this kind of government aid. A hundred billion dollars for high-speed broadband, how would that work? Is this going to be for the actual infrastructure, or is this going to be for subsidizing broadband costs for customers, which would, in essence, mean giving more money to the broadband companies? How would this work? Do you know?

DARRICK HAMILTON: Yeah. Now, of course, devil is in the detail. And then, when you lead with the sum of money, we always have to put actual dollar values in perspective. We need to think about things like share of GDP that’s being invested, as opposed to the actual shock value of the number that’s presented. And in the bill, he talks about 1% of GDP going toward total investment. And, Juan, as you point out, we need to think about: Are we talking about public-private partnerships, or are we talking about direct public provisions?

So, you know, we led with some of the good. And some of the ways in which it can be improved — the scale is inadequate. If we’re talking about addressing our vulnerability to climate change and any type of natural disasters, the scale needs to be larger than $2 trillion. And then, also, if we’re talking about ensuring that there’s adequate protection for workers, thinking about public-private partnerships have always — have not always worked in the past, that we need a public sector that directly competes with the private sector. That’s another way of intervening that could benefit workers directly.

But again, it’s mixed, because there’s provisions in the bill that promote unionization. There are provisions to promote equity. But in addition to direct public options for jobs, direct public jobs, we also need to make sure that that equity that’s proposed in the bill has accountability, that there are metrics to measure how well we’re doing in delivering racial justice, tribal justice, and then, if we’re failing in delivering that equity, that there’s some pathway towards accountability to rectify that failing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk somewhat about the Biden proposal to increase the corporate tax rate as a means of paying for some of this, and also this more recent announcement that the federal government is going to try to seek a global corporate minimum tax, something that obviously will take years of negotiations with the countries of the world to come up with something like that, if it ever does come to fruition?

DARRICK HAMILTON: That’s a fantastic provision in the bill also. One can think of this bill as two parts. One is the public infrastructure. And the other is — and here’s the adjective I would describe, rather than a corporate tax hike — a restoration of the corporate tax rate back to — you know, not even back to our historic levels, but back to prior to the Trump administration and some of the other administrations. So, I guess he’s calling for a 28% corporate tax rate and, in calling for that 28% tax rate, including provisions to avoid loopholes for savvy accountants at corporations that are able to skate that 28% responsibility.

And what’s more, as you point out, Juan, and Secretary Yellen pointed out in the beginning of this segment, that there’s also the race to the bottom by recognizing that corporations are transnational, and they pit countries, nation-states, against one another. So, putting a base-level tax rate at a minimum avoids that race to the bottom and corporations being able to bid one nation-state against the other. Another way to conceive of this is, think of it as not only an industrial policy, but even a trade policy through tax reform, to make sure that we have fair standards, when we think about ways in which nation-states engage across borders.

AMY GOODMAN: Progressives are continuing to call for an even greater investment in infrastructure projects. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking on MSNBC last week.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: We’re talking about, realistically, $10 trillion over 10 years. And I know that may be an eye-popping figure for some people, but we need to understand that we are in a devastating economic moment. Millions of people in the United States are unemployed. We have a truly crippled healthcare system and a planetary crisis on our hands. And we’re the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to that? And lay out your vision of what a infrastructure project, program, bill, law, promoting racial equity should look like. You write about this all the time.

DARRICK HAMILTON: The congresswoman is, as usual, spot on, in thinking about — the scale of the problem and the size of the bill is incongruent. And again, Juan, you led with that $2 trillion figure, but if put in perspective, if we understand the gross inequities, where the top 0.1% has as much of the nation’s wealth as the bottom 90%, and then if we add the dimensions of race and gender, where one’s race is more predictive of one’s economic circumstance than their class itself — and by “class,” I mean education or even job that you work at — that’s a problem. And that’s going to require an investment well beyond what’s being proposed. And if we think about our environment and what we’re going to need to shore up our resiliency to not only climate change, but the next pandemic, it’s going to require something more in the order of what the congresswoman has proposed.

And then, you know, even framing. Ultimately, we need public provisions that are more direct. Some of the approaches of using tax incentives and using public-private partnerships, we don’t have to do away with those. They have their place. But what we really need is a rebalance of power, where the public sector is exercising their might in a way to avoid, just like we’re talking about race to the bottom across borders, race to the bottom in labor markets. If we have direct jobs where an individual can choose to go work in the private sector with proper conditions, with proper wages, that in and of itself will discipline the private sector. You know, I call for a federal job guarantee. That is a direct way to ensure that every worker literally has a job, that desires to have a job, at an adequate wage with proper benefits. And it not only gives that worker a direct job; those workers that aren’t in the public sector, they would be able to better bargain where they are for better wages, etc.

And I’ll give one quick example. I know we’re running short on time. If you are a waitress putting up with sexual harassment at your job, or a Black man or Black woman being discriminated in your job, you have less agency to deal with that if you don’t have an alternative. And what building up the public sector employment can do is provide that alternative, and then also provide it in a way that’s building our public infrastructure, that goes directly to the public in areas that, frankly, the private sector is not adequately producing, such as making our environment more resilient.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you for being with us, Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics at The New School, founding director of its Institute on Race and Political Economy.

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