Now, the Biden administration fears that its supply issues will erase its demand successes. In recent remarks, Biden took aim at those who would drive prices down by breaking the purchasing power of the working class. “If car prices are too high right now, there are two solutions,” Biden said. “You increase the supply of cars by making more of them, or you reduce the demand for cars by making Americans poorer. It’s the choice. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people in the second camp.
He’s right, but it’s a practical fight, not just an ideological one, and the Biden administration is making its own mistakes. His administration is currently suffering from direct mismanagement of Covid supplies. He did an extraordinary job in his first few months, flooding the country with vaccines. Today, any adult who wants one or three can get vaccinated. But vaccines aren’t the only public health tool that matters, and there was every reason to believe the Biden administration knew that. The US bailout had about $20 billion for vaccine distribution, but it had $50 billion to expand testing and even more to upgrade classrooms so teachers and children feel safe. security. Where did this money go?
A good pandemic supply chain would also help facilitate all other supply chains. If Americans could move through their lives with more confidence, they could buy services instead of things, and if businesses could test and protect their workforces more effectively, they could produce and ship more goods.
But the Biden administration has not fully assumed its role as economic planner. When Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was asked about the test shortages in December, she fired back: “Should we just send one to every American?
The Psaki snark quickly became Biden politics. The administration is launching a website where any family can request four free tests. It’s a start, but no more than that. For rapid tests to work, people need to be able to do it all the time. But because the administration didn’t create the supply of tests it needed months ago, there aren’t enough tests for her or anyone else to buy now. This partly reflects the Food and Drug Administration’s continued failure to approve many tests already sold in Europe.
The same goes, I would say, for masks. There’s simply no reason every American can’t get an unlimited supply of N95s and KN95s at every post office, library, and DMV. Instead, people are buying counterfeit N95s on Amazon and wearing cloth masks that do far less to stop the spread. Now the Biden administration is moving towards providing masks. But there is still a lot to do: what about ventilation? How about building the vaccine production capacity needed to vaccinate the world and prevent the emergence of future strains? How about building capacity to produce more antiviral pills so that the next effective treatment can be put in place faster?
For decades, Democratic and Republican administrations believed that the market would manage supply. We live in the rubble of this worldview. But it has lasted so long that the US government has lost both the muscle and the confidence to manage procurement, at least as far as anything other than military spending is concerned. Biden’s task is therefore now clear: to build a government capable of creating supply, not just demand.
This may not be the presidency Biden prepared for, but it is the one he got.