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    Biden’s New Vaccine Push Is a Fight for the U.S. Economy

    The effort reflects the continuing and evolving threat the coronavirus pandemic poses to the economic recovery.WASHINGTON — President Biden’s aggressive move to expand the number of vaccinated Americans and halt the spread of the Delta variant is not just an effort to save lives. It is also an attempt to counter the continuing and evolving threat that the virus poses to the economy.Delta’s rise has been fueled in part by the inability of Mr. Biden and his administration to persuade millions of vaccine-refusing Americans to inoculate themselves against the virus. That has created another problem: a drag on the economic recovery. Real-time gauges of restaurant visits, airline travel and other services show consumers pulled back on some face-to-face spending in recent weeks.After weeks of playing down the threat that a new wave of infections posed to the recovery, the president and his team blamed Delta for slowing job growth in August. “We’re in a tough stretch,” he conceded on Thursday, after heralding the economic progress made under his administration so far this year, “and it could last for a while.”The virus threatens the recovery even though consumers and business owners are not retrenching the way they did when the coronavirus began to spread in the United States in the spring of 2020. Far fewer states and cities have imposed restrictions on business activity than in previous waves, and administration officials vowed on Thursday that the nation would not return to “lockdowns or shutdowns.”But a surge in deaths crippled consumer confidence in August and portends a possible chill in fall spending as people again opt for limited in-person commerce. The unchecked spread of the virus has also contributed to a rapid drop in the president’s approval ratings — even among Democrats.The explosion of new cases and deaths also appears to have deterred many would-be workers from accepting open jobs in businesses across the country, economists say. That comes as businesses and consumers are complaining about a labor shortage and as administration officials pin their hopes on rising wages to power consumer spending in place of fading government support for distressed families.The plan Mr. Biden announced on Thursday would mandate vaccinations for federal employees and contractors and for millions of health care workers, along with new Labor Department rules requiring vaccines or weekly tests for employees at companies with more than 100 employees. It would push for more testing, offer more aid to small businesses, call on schools to adopt vaccine requirements and provide easy access to booster shots for eligible Americans. The president estimated the requirements would affect 100 million Americans, or about two-thirds of all workers.“We have the tools to combat the virus,” he said, “if we can come together and use those tools.”Mr. Biden faces political risks from his actions, which drew swift backlash from many conservative lawmakers who accused him of violating the Constitution and abusing his powers.But administration officials have always viewed vaccinating more Americans as the primary strategy for reviving the recovery.“This is an economic downturn that has been spawned from a public health crisis,” Cecilia Rouse, the chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said last month in an interview. “So we will get back to economic health when we get past the virus, when we return to public health as well.”That is likely true even in places that already have high inoculation rates. Mr. Biden’s inability thus far to break through vaccine hesitancy, particularly in conservative areas, has also become a psychological spending drag on those in highly vaccinated areas. That is because vaccinated Americans appear more likely to pull back on travel, dining out and other activity out of fear of the virus.“People who vaccinate themselves very early are people who are already very careful,” said Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, a University of Pennsylvania economist who has studied the interplay between the pandemic and the economy. “People who do not vaccinate themselves are less careful. So there is a multiplier effect” when it comes to those kinds of decisions.The economic effect from the virus varies by region, and it has changed in key ways over the course of the pandemic. In some heavily vaccinated parts of the country — including liberal states packed with Mr. Biden’s supporters — virus-wary Americans have pulled back on economic activity, even though infection rates in their areas are low. In some less-vaccinated states like Texas that have experienced a large Delta wave, data suggest rising hospitalization and death rates are not driving down activity as much as they did in previous waves.“It appears the latest Covid surge has been less impactful on the economy than previous surges in Texas,” said Laila Assanie, a senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, which surveys employers in the state each month about their activity during the pandemic.Business owners, Ms. Assanie said, “said they were better prepared this time around.”The threat of the Delta variant has caused consumers to pull back on some face-to-face spending.Brittainy Newman for The New York TimesRespondents to the survey said consumer spending had not fallen off as much this summer, compared with the initial spread of the coronavirus in March 2020 or a renewed spike last winter, even as case and hospitalization rates neared their previous peak from January. But many employers reported staffing pressures from workers falling ill with the virus. The share of businesses reporting that concerns about the pandemic were an impediment to hiring workers tripled from July to August.Data from Homebase, which provides time-management software to small businesses, show that employment in entertainment, dining and other coronavirus-sensitive sectors has fallen in recent weeks as the Delta variant has spread. But the decline is smaller than during the spike in cases last winter, suggesting that economic activity has become less sensitive to the pandemic over time. Other measures likewise show that economic activity has slowed but not collapsed as cases have risen..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}That trend has helped bolster overall consumer spending and hiring in the short term and helped keep the economy on track for its fastest annual growth in a quarter century. But there is a risk that it will be undercut by a continued pandemic dampening of labor force participation. Economists who have tracked the issue say that even if consumers have grown more accustomed to shopping or dining out as cases rise, there is little sign that would-be workers, even vaccinated ones, have become more accepting of the risks of returning to service jobs as the pandemic rages.“It’s becoming increasingly clear that employers are eager to hire,” said Andrew Atkeson, an economist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has released several papers on the economics of the pandemic. “The problem is not that people aren’t spending. It’s that people are still reluctant to go back to work”The Delta wave also appears to be sidelining some workers by disrupting child care and, in some cases, schools — forcing parents to take time off or to delay returning to jobs.Some forecasters believe the combination of rising vaccination rates and a growing share of Americans who have already contracted the virus will soon arrest the Delta wave and set the economy back on track for rapid growth, with small-business hiring and restaurant visits rebounding as soon as the end of this month. “Now is the time to start thinking about the post-Delta world,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note this month.Other economists see the possibility that a continued Delta wave — or a surge from another variant in the months to come — will substantially slow the recovery, because potential workers in particular remain sensitive to the spread of the virus.“That’s a very real danger,” said Austan Goolsbee, a former head of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama whose research earlier in the pandemic showed fear, not government restrictions, was the driving force behind lost economic activity from the virus.“At the same time,” Mr. Goolsbee said, “it also shows promise: the fact that when we get control of the spread of the virus, or even stabilize the spread of the virus, the economy wants to come back.”The greatest lift to the country, and likely to Mr. Biden’s popularity, from finally curbing the virus would not be regained business sales or jobs created. It would be stemming a death toll that has climbed to about 650,000 since the pandemic began.“I always tell undergraduates, when they take economics with me, that economics is not about optimizing output,” said Mr. Fernández-Villaverde, the University of Pennsylvania economist. “It’s about optimizing welfare. And if you’re dead, you’re not getting a lot of welfare.”Ben Casselman More

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    Amid Economic Turmoil, Biden Stays Focused on Longer Term

    The president’s advisers are pushing their most detailed argument yet for the long-term benefits of a $4 trillion agenda to remake the American economy.WASHINGTON — President Biden and his economic team on Thursday made their most detailed case yet for trillions of dollars in new federal spending to rebuild public investment in workers, research and physical infrastructure, focusing on long-term ingredients of economic growth and equality as the current recovery from recession showed signs of distress.The president’s aides published what amounted to a deeper economic backbone for the argument that Mr. Biden is making publicly and privately to sell his plans to lawmakers, including the message he conveyed to a group of Republican senators he invited to the White House on Thursday to discuss an infrastructure package centered on roads, bridges, transit and broadband.That meeting ended with encouraging words from both sides. Republicans said Mr. Biden invited the senators, who had previously offered a nearly $570 billion, narrowly focused package, to return with an updated offer, including how to pay for new spending.Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who is leading the Republicans’ negotiations, said lawmakers would prepare an updated offer for the president to review by early next week, including a more detailed list of the kinds of projects they would be willing to fund and a set of proposals to cover the costs. The senators said they expected Mr. Biden would then respond with a counteroffer.“I made it clear that this was not a stagnant offer from us,” Ms. Capito said. “He made it clear that he is serious in wanting to pursue this.”She said Republican senators were open to raising the overall top-line price tag of their offer, which is a fraction of the new spending the president proposed. She also suggested that Republicans would be willing to cut a deal with Mr. Biden even if he decided to pursue a more progressive package, including priorities beyond traditional infrastructure, with only Democratic votes. Other senators predicted the sides would know by Memorial Day whether they could reach a deal.“It’s in nobody’s interest to draw this out beyond the time when you think it’s workable,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “But I certainly left there thinking there’s a workable agreement to be had if we want to stretch a little both ways.”Shortly before the meeting, the White House Council of Economic Advisers posted a document to its website that cast Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda as a way to correct decades of tax-cutting policies that had failed to bolster the middle class. In its place, the administration is pushing a rebuilding of public investment, like infrastructure, research and education, as the best way to fuel economic growth and improve families’ lives.The so-called issue brief reflects the administration’s longer-term thinking on economic policy when conservatives have ramped up criticism of the president over slowing job growth and accelerating inflation.Administration officials express confidence that recent price surges in used cars, airfare and other sectors of the economy will prove temporary, and that job growth will speed up again as more working-aged Americans are vaccinated against Covid-19 and regain access to child care during work hours. They say Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic aid package, which he signed in March, will lift job growth in the coming months, noting that new claims for unemployment fell to a pandemic-era low on Thursday.The officials also said it was appropriate for the president to look past the current crisis and push efforts to strengthen the economy long term.The two halves of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion agenda, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, are premised on the economy returning to a low unemployment rate where essentially every American who wants to work is able to find a job, Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview.“The American Rescue Plan was rescue,” Dr. Rouse said. “It was meant as stimulus as we work through this hopefully once-in-a-century, if not longer, pandemic. The American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan are saying, look, that’s behind us, but we knew going into the pandemic that there were structural problems in our country and in our economy.”Mr. Biden’s plans would raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund new federal spending on physical infrastructure, care for children and older Americans, expanded access to education, an accelerated transition to low-carbon energy and more.Those efforts “reflect the empirical evidence that a strong economy depends on a solid foundation of public investment, and that investments in workers, families and communities can pay off for decades to come,” Mr. Biden’s advisers wrote. “These plans are not emergency legislation; they address longstanding challenges.”The five-page brief focuses on arguments about what drives productivity, wage growth, innovation and equity in the economy. The issues predate the coronavirus recession and recovery, and Democrats in particular have pledged for years to address them.The brief begins by attacking the “old orthodoxy” of tax-cutting policies by presidents and Congress, including the 2017 tax cut passed by Republicans under President Donald J. Trump. A driving rationale behind that law was an effort to encourage more investment by private companies, bolstering what economists call the nation’s capital stock. The brief faults those policies for not producing the rapid gains in economic growth that champions of those policies promised, and it says that raising taxes on high earners “will help ensure that the gains from economic growth are more broadly shared.”Republicans continue to insist that tax cuts, particularly for businesses, are the key to economic competitiveness and middle-class prosperity. They have refused to negotiate any changes to their party’s signature 2017 tax law as part of an infrastructure agreement, even as they concede some need for a limited version of the new public investments Mr. Biden is calling for.Republicans used the meeting on Thursday to reiterate that they would be unwilling to raise corporate or personal taxes lowered by their 2017 law. Instead, they pitched the president on the use of zero-interest loans and public-private partnerships, in addition to existing gasoline taxes and other government savings.Mr. Biden would raise taxes to reverse what his economic team calls the federal government’s underinvestment in policies that help educate children and adults, facilitate the development of new technologies and industries and support parents so they are able to work and earn more. His team cites the wave of quickly developed coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which grew out of publicly funded research, as an example of public investments yielding private-sector innovation.“Those started with ideas that were funded by the public sector decades ago,” Dr. Rouse said. “And then the private sector built on top of that, so it’s really, the private sector needs to work with the public sector. We are all very grateful that the public sector was willing to take that risk, and it didn’t pay off right away.”“In many ways, the federal government should be patient,” she said. “We are a kind of entity, we should be patient. So I’m not saying we have to wait a million years for something to pay off, but we don’t need to have the kind of immediate payoff that a private company might need to see.”That argument is in many ways a departure from how administrations typically pitch economic policies during a crisis. There is no focus in the brief on immediate job creation or a quick bump in economic growth.Weeks after Mr. Biden detailed both halves of his plan, the administration has offered no projections about the effects of his policies on jobs or growth. Instead, Dr. Rouse and other administration officials cited forecasts by the Moody’s Analytics economist Mark Zandi, which are among the more favorable outside analyses of the president’s agenda.Administration officials say there is no need for their economic team to produce such forecasts. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly called for the White House to produce an estimate of how many jobs would be created by Mr. Biden’s plans. More

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    Biden Plan Spurs Fight Over What ‘Infrastructure’ Really Means

    Republicans say the White House is tucking liberal social programs into legislation that should be focused on roads and bridges. Administration officials say their approach invests in the future.WASHINGTON — The early political and economic debate over President Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan is being dominated by a philosophical question: What does infrastructure really mean?Does it encompass the traditional idea of fixing roads, building bridges and financing other tangible projects? Or, in an evolving economy, does it expand to include initiatives like investing in broadband, electric car charging stations and care for older and disabled Americans?That is the debate shaping up as Republicans attack Mr. Biden’s plan with pie charts and scathing quotes, saying that it allocates only a small fraction of money on “real” infrastructure and that spending to address issues like home care, electric vehicles and even water pipes should not count.“Even if you stretch the definition of infrastructure some, it’s about 30 percent of the $2.25 trillion they’re talking about spending,” Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said on “Fox News Sunday.”“When people think about infrastructure, they’re thinking about roads, bridges, ports and airports,” he added on ABC’s “This Week.”Mr. Biden pushed back on Monday, saying that after years of calling for infrastructure spending that included power lines, internet cables and other programs beyond transportation, Republicans had narrowed their definition to exclude key components of his plan.“It’s kind of interesting that when the Republicans put forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to dealing with other things” qualified, the president told reporters on Monday. “Their definition of infrastructure has changed.”Mr. Biden defended his proposed $2 trillion package, saying it broadly qualified as infrastructure and included goals such as making sure schoolchildren are drinking clean water, building high-speed rail lines and making federal buildings more energy efficient.Behind the political fight is a deep, nuanced and evolving economic literature on the subject. It boils down to this: The economy has changed, and so has the definition of infrastructure.Economists largely agree that infrastructure now means more than just roads and bridges and extends to the building blocks of a modern, high-tech service economy — broadband, for example.But even some economists who have carefully studied that shift say the Biden plan stretches the limits of what counts.Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University, is working on a project on infrastructure for the National Bureau of Economic Research that receives funding from the Transportation Department. He said that several provisions in Mr. Biden’s bill might or might not have merit but did not fall into a conventional definition of infrastructure, such as improving the nation’s affordable housing stock and expanding access to care for older and disabled Americans.“It does a bit of violence to the English language, doesn’t it?” Mr. Glaeser said.“Infrastructure is something the president has decided is a centrist American thing,” he said, so the administration took a range of priorities and grouped them under that “big tent.”Proponents of considering the bulk of Mr. Biden’s proposals — including roads, bridges, broadband access, support for home health aides and even efforts to bolster labor unions — argue that in the 21st century, anything that helps people work and lead productive or fulfilling lives counts as infrastructure. That includes investments in people, like the creation of high-paying union jobs or raising wages for a home health work force that is dominated by women of color.“I couldn’t be going to work if I had to take care of my parents,” said Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “How is that not infrastructure?”But those who say that definition is too expansive tend to focus on the potential payback of a given project: Is the proposed spending actually headed toward a publicly available and productivity-enabling investment?A child care center in Queens, N.Y., last month. For those who support an expansive definition of infrastructure, anything that helps people work and lead productive lives counts.Kirsten Luce for The New York Times“Much of what it is in the American Jobs Act is really social spending, not productivity-enhancing infrastructure of any kind,” R. Glenn Hubbard, an economics professor at Columbia Business School and a longtime Republican adviser, said in an email.Specifically, he pointed to spending on home care workers and provisions that help unions as policies that were not focused on bolstering the economy’s potential.Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has called the Biden plan a “Trojan horse. It’s called infrastructure. But inside the Trojan horse is going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases.”Republicans have slammed the provisions related to the care economy and electric vehicle charging options, and they have blasted policies that they have at times classified themselves as infrastructure.Take broadband, something that conservative lawmakers have in the past clearly counted as infrastructure. Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, has said that the White House’s broadband proposal could lead to duplication and overbuilding. While Mr. Blunt has allowed it to count as infrastructure in a case where you “stretch the definition,” top Republicans mostly leave it out when describing how much of Mr. Biden’s proposal would go to infrastructure investment, focusing instead on roads and bridges.Likewise, Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said the proposal “redefines infrastructure” to include things like work force development. But one of Mr. Portman’s own proposals said that skills training was essential to successful infrastructure investment.“Many people in the states would be surprised to hear that broadband for rural areas no longer counts,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden in the White House. “We think that the people in Jackson, Miss., might be surprised to hear that fixing that water system doesn’t count as infrastructure. We think the people of Texas might disagree with the idea that the electric grid isn’t infrastructure that needs to be built with resilience for the 21st century.”White House officials said that much of Mr. Biden’s plan reflected the reality that infrastructure had taken on a broader meaning as the nature of work changes, focusing less on factories and shipping goods and more on creating and selling services.Other economists back the idea that the definition has changed.Dan Sichel, an economics professor at Wellesley College and a former Federal Reserve research official, said it could be helpful to think of what comprises infrastructure as a series of concentric circles: a basic inner band made up of roads and bridges, a larger social ring of schools and hospitals, then a digital layer including things like cloud computing. There could also be an intangible layer, like open-source software or weather data.“It is definitely an amorphous concept,” he said, but basically “we mean key economic assets that support and enable economic activity.”The economy has evolved since the 1950s: Manufacturers used to employ about a third of the work force but now count for just 8.5 percent of jobs in the United States. Because the economy has changed, it is important that our definitions are updated, Mr. Sichel said.The debate over the meaning of infrastructure is not new. In the days of the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority, academics and policymakers sparred over whether universal access to electricity was necessary public infrastructure, said Shane M. Greenstein, an economist at Harvard Business School whose recent research focuses on broadband.“Washington has an attention span of several weeks, and this debate is a century old,” he said. These days, he added, it is about digital access instead of clean water and power.Some progressive economists are pressing the administration to widen the definition even further — and to spend more to rebuild it.“The conversation has moved a lot in recent years. We’re now talking about issues like a care infrastructure. That’s huge,” said Rakeen Mabud, the managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive advocacy group in Washington. But “there’s room to do more,” she said. “We should take that opportunity to really show the value of big investments.”Some economists who define infrastructure more narrowly said that just because policies were not considered infrastructure did not mean they were not worth pursuing. Still, Mr. Glaeser of Harvard cautioned that the bill’s many proposals should be evaluated on their merits.“It’s very hard to do this much infrastructure spending at this scale quickly and wisely,” he said. “If anything, I wish it were more closely tied to cost-benefit analysis.” More

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    Biden Gains Two Key Economic Advisers

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyBiden Gains Two Key Economic AdvisersThe Senate confirmed Gina Raimondo as President Biden’s commerce secretary and Cecilia Rouse as the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.Gina Raimondo, left, brings experience as Rhode Island governor and a venture capitalist to her role as commerce secretary, and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton economist, has previously been a member of the council she is about to lead.Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York TimesAna Swanson and March 2, 2021, 7:11 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed two key members of President Biden’s economic team on Tuesday, ushering in Gina Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist, as the next secretary of commerce, and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University economist, as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.Dr. Rouse will become the first Black chair of the economic council in its 75-year history. She was approved by a vote of 95 to 4.Ms. Raimondo was confirmed 84 to 15. A moderate Democrat with a background in the financial industry, Ms. Raimondo is expected to leverage her private- and public-sector experience to oversee a sprawling bureaucracy that is charged with both promoting and regulating American business.Under Ms. Raimondo, the Commerce Department is likely to play a crucial role in several of Mr. Biden’s policy efforts, including spurring the American economy, building out rural broadband and other infrastructure, and leading America’s technology competition with China. The department also carries out the census and oversees American fisheries, weather monitoring, telecommunications standards and economic data gathering, among other activities.Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, said that she thought Ms. Raimondo’s private-sector experience would help her facilitate new investments and create jobs in the United States, and that she was “counting on Governor Raimondo to help us with our export economy.”Ms. Cantwell also said she believed Ms. Raimondo would be a departure from President Donald J. Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. “I think he and the president spent a lot more time shaking their fists at the world community than engaging them on policies that were really going to help markets and help us move forward with getting our products in the door,” she said.A graduate of Yale and Oxford, Ms. Raimondo was a founding employee at Village Ventures, an investment firm backed by Bain Capital. She also co-founded her own venture capital firm, Point Judith Capital, before being elected treasurer and then governor of Rhode Island.The first female governor of the state, she was known for introducing a centrist agenda that included training programs, fewer regulations and reduced taxes for businesses. She also led a restructuring of the state’s pension programs, clashing with unions in the process.Ms. Raimondo drew criticism from some Republicans in her nomination hearing in January, when she declined to commit to keeping certain restrictions in place on the exports that could be sent to the Chinese telecom firm Huawei, which many American lawmakers see as a threat to national security.Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, denounced those remarks and urged his colleagues to vote against Ms. Raimondo. “There has been a rush to embrace the worst elements of the Chinese Communist Party in the Biden administration. And that includes Governor Raimondo,” he said.Under Mr. Trump, the Commerce Department played an outsize role in trade policy, levying tariffs on imported aluminum and steel for national security reasons, investigating additional tariffs on cars and placing a variety of curbs on technology exports to China.Ms. Raimondo and other Biden administration officials have not clarified whether they will keep those restrictions, saying they will first carry out a comprehensive review of their effects.Dr. Rouse is the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and a former member of the council under President Barack Obama. Her academic research has focused on education, discrimination and the forces that hold some people back in the American economy. She won widespread praise from Republicans and Democrats alike in her confirmation hearing, with senators voting unanimously to send her nomination from the Banking Committee to the full Senate.She will assume her post amid an economic and public health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic, and in the waning days of congressional debate on a $1.9 trillion economic aid package that Mr. Biden has made his first major legislative priority.But in interviews and her hearing testimony, Dr. Rouse has made clear that she sees a larger set of priorities as council chair: overhauling the inner workings of the federal government to promote racial and gender equity in the economy.“As deeply distressing as this pandemic and economic fallout have been,” she said in her hearing, “it is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy better than it was before — making it work for everyone by increasing the availability of fulfilling jobs and leaving no one vulnerable to falling through the cracks.”One of her initiatives will be to audit the ways in which the government collects and reports economic data, in order to break it down by race, gender and other demographic variables to improve the government’s ability to target economic policies to help historically disadvantaged groups.“We want to design policies that will be economically effective,” Dr. Rouse said in an interview this year. Asked how she would judge effectiveness, she replied, “It’s by keeping our eye on this ball, and asking ourselves, every time we look at a policy: What are the racial and ethnic impacts?”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Even With $900 Billion Stimulus, Biden Faces Fragile Economy

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Presidential TransitionliveLatest UpdatesElectoral College ResultsBiden’s CabinetInaugural DonationsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story$900 Billion Won’t Carry Biden Very FarDespite new pandemic aid, he confronts an economic crisis unlike any since he last entered office in 2009. And political headwinds have only stiffened.The challenges greeting President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. rival those of the Great Recession, when he became vice president.Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York TimesJan. 4, 2021Updated 5:48 p.m. ETWith his presidential inauguration just weeks away, Joseph R. Biden Jr. is confronting an economic crisis that is utterly unparalleled and yet eerily familiar.Millions of Americans are out of work, small businesses are struggling to survive, hunger is rampant, and people across the country fear getting kicked out of their homes. The moment was similarly perilous exactly 12 years ago, when Mr. Biden was the vice president-elect and preparing to take office.“I remember the utter terror,” said Cecilia Rouse, who was an economic adviser in the Obama White House and has been chosen to lead Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers.The $900 billion pandemic relief plan that moderate lawmakers powered through Congress last month provides the incoming administration with some breathing room. This second tier of aid will deliver $600 stimulus checks, assist small businesses and extend federal unemployment benefits through mid-March.But as Mr. Biden has made clear, it is simply a “down payment” — a brief bridge to get through a dark winter and not nearly enough to restore the economy’s health.Roughly 19 million people are receiving some type of unemployment benefit, and many business owners wonder whether they will be able to survive the year. The coronavirus crisis has worsened longstanding inequalities, with workers at the lower end of the income spectrum — who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic — bearing the brunt of the pain.At the same time, bottlenecks in the Covid-19 vaccines’ rollout as well as fears about a much more transmissible variant of the virus could further delay the revival of large swaths of the economy like restaurants, travel, live entertainment and sports.“We are in for some choppy waters, even as we continue to get to the other side of the pandemic,” Ms. Rouse said.Yet despite the scorched earth left by the coronavirus, the economy is on a more stable footing in several ways than it was at the start of 2009.Instead of hurtling down a hole with no clear view of the bottom, Mr. Biden is taking office when the economy is on an upward trajectory. However anemic the growth, most analysts predict that 2021 will end better than it began even if there are stumbles along the way.While this pandemic-related recession was larger in terms of initial job losses and closings, it is what Ms. Rouse labeled “collateral damage” from a health emergency and not a crack in the underlying global financial system.“Now we know what to do: Provide the kind of social safety net for households, businesses and communities so they can get to the other side of the pandemic intact,” Ms. Rouse said.The Biden administration will also focus on attacking the deep-rooted inequalities that this crisis aggravated, she added.Volunteers distributing food donations in Bradenton, Fla. Four million U.S. workers have been unemployed for at least six months.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York TimesA closed flower shop in Tampa, Fla. The pandemic has shut down more businesses than the Great Recession did.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York TimesAdding to the positive side of the ledger, many households have socked away money, lifting the savings rate to a 40-year high. In contrast, the Great Recession razed storehouses of wealth, in retirement accounts and homes, virtually overnight.“Walking in this time, there is at least a cushion,” said Jason Furman, who led President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and is now an economist at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.The Presidential TransitionLatest UpdatesUpdated Jan. 4, 2021, 6:43 p.m. ETSenator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia says she will join the vote to overturn Biden’s electors.The leader of the far-right Proud Boys was arrested in Washington.In Georgia, Jon Ossoff warns Trump not to ‘mess with our voting rights.’But if the Biden administration will have a bit more running room on the economy, it is likely to have a lot less politically than Mr. Obama did in the first two years of his presidency, when his party controlled both houses of Congress.If the Democrats retake control of the Senate by winning both seats in the Georgia runoff election on Tuesday, Mr. Biden’s path will be much easier. Otherwise, the new president will have to deal with a Republican Senate led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has stymied legislation from the Democratic-controlled House.In that case, the administration will have an uphill slog persuading lawmakers to approve more aid when this round ends. With a Democrat headed for the Oval Office, many Republicans who put aside their concerns about debt when it came to cutting taxes in 2017 have rediscovered their inner deficit hawk.Mr. McConnell successfully resisted President Trump’s calls — echoed by Democrats — to increase the latest stimulus payments to $2,000 from $600.The failure to extend or expand federal aid when it expires this spring not only would cause significant hardships and needless suffering but could seriously scar the economy, said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.Even though economic activity will most likely be on an upswing, the economy will remain weakened, Mr. Stiglitz said. Eviction moratoriums and mortgage forbearance have prevented families from losing their homes, but their housing debt has been accumulating even if it has not yet shown up on household balance sheets.Covid-19 vaccinations are crucial to getting the economy back on track.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York TimesA coronavirus testing site in Los Angeles. Cities and states also have a big role to play in distributing vaccines. Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York TimesMany small businesses, particularly in the hard-hit service sector, which has been a source of low-wage jobs, will not survive. Economic inequality will increase.“There’s been a lot of long-term damage,” Mr. Stiglitz said.At the same time, the ranks of workers who have been unemployed for six months or longer have swelled to more than four million, increasing the chances that they may never find another job. Growing numbers of men and women are also dropping out of the labor force altogether.None of those problems can really begin to be addressed without widely distributing the vaccines and reopening the schools so that parents, particularly mothers, can return to the work force.That is why economists say that funneling direct aid to state and local governments is so crucial.“That sector has been gutted,” said Abigail Wozniak, a labor economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, but it “is the sector that allows all the other sectors to operate.”States and localities will play a critical role in the vaccine rollout and in providing emergency medical personnel. They will also be responsible for sending teachers back to classrooms that are safe, and helping disadvantaged students regain lost ground.Senate Republicans have been dead set against providing that kind of direct aid. Mr. McConnell has criticized it as a “blue-state bailout,” even though many red and blue states — and rural areas in particular — have lost revenues and public sector jobs.Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has opposed direct aid to state and local governments.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesEconomists say Congress and the White House must recognize the differences as well as the similarities between the pandemic and the Great Recession.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesEconomists on the right and left agree that while there are echoes from the Great Recession, there are also important distinctions. Restoring the economy this time, they warn, will require a kind of economic serenity prayer: recognizing the similarities, identifying the contrasts, and having the wisdom to know the difference.For Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the economy has repaired itself more quickly than expected. He worries that some aid proposals, particularly those that prop up specific industries, would keep some dying businesses alive and “slow down the process of adjustment to a new post-virus economy.“The faster that process happens, the faster the economy heals,” Mr. Strain said.Many liberal economists, though, including those on the Biden team, warn against ignoring a crucial lesson from the last recession: Failing to move quickly to provide sufficient money to the people and businesses that need it can damage the economy far into the future.Brian Deese, whom Mr. Biden has picked to lead the National Economic Council, where he worked as an assistant during the Obama administration, said making public investments was necessary to ensure economic growth.“We’re in a moment where the risk of doing too little outweighs the risk of doing too much,” he said.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Biden Expected to Name Top Economic Officials This Week

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to name top members of his economic team this week, including Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton labor economist, to run the Council of Economic Advisers, and Neera Tanden, the chief executive of the Center for American Progress, to lead the Office of Management and Budget, according to people familiar with the matter.The announcement — which will include Mr. Biden’s decision to name Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, as Treasury secretary — will culminate in several women in top economic roles, including the first Black woman to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. All three jobs require Senate confirmation.With the picks, Mr. Biden is showcasing a commitment to diversity in his advisers and sending a clear message that economic policymaking in his administration will be shaped by liberal thinkers with a strong focus on worker empowerment as a tool for economic growth.Two of Mr. Biden’s top economic aides during his presidential campaign, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, will also be named to the Council of Economic Advisers, which is a three-member team that advises the president on economic policy. Both Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein come from a liberal, labor-oriented school of economics that views rising inequality as a threat to the economy and emphasizes government efforts to support and empower workers.In many ways, his team is unified by a commitment to running the economy hot — with strong growth and low unemployment — in order to drive up wages. And it is likely to signal an embrace of spending to help workers, businesses and local governments recover from the pandemic recession, regardless of the effect on the federal budget deficit.“President Biden’s appointments show that he is quadrupling down on his commitment to working people and raising wages,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the former head of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. “He has appointed four of the best labor market economists in the country to head the Treasury and the Council of Economic Advisers.”In addition to those roles, Mr. Biden is expected to name Adewale Adeyemo, a senior international economic adviser in the Obama administration, as deputy Treasury secretary.Mr. Biden has also selected Brian Deese, a former Obama economic aide who helped lead that administration’s efforts to bail out the American automotive industry, to lead the National Economic Council, according to three people with knowledge of the selection.Mr. Deese, 42, is not an academic economist but a veteran of economic policymaking, having served as the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget and the deputy director of the Economic Council under Mr. Obama. He was also a special adviser on climate change to Mr. Obama, a role that could signal Mr. Biden’s commitment to fashioning an infrastructure bill for his legislative agenda that heavily features spending on clean energy initiatives.Mr. Biden on Sunday announced an all-female White House communications staff, with Jennifer Psaki, a veteran of the Obama administration, in the most visible role as White House press secretary.Kate Bedingfield, 39, who served as a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, will serve as the White House communications director. Karine Jean Pierre, who previously served as the chief public affairs officer for MoveOn.org, will be the principal deputy press secretary. Pili Tobar, a former immigrant advocate with the group America’s Voice, will serve as the deputy White House communications director.Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden on the campaign, will serve as the senior adviser and chief spokeswoman for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Ashley Etienne, a former senior adviser to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will serve as the communications director for Ms. Harris.The appointments indicate Mr. Biden’s plan to include racial, gender and ideological diversity in top roles, fulfilling a campaign pledge to ensure that a broad swath of America is represented in policymaking decisions.But they could fall short of hopes within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has been frustrated that their views are not being sufficiently represented in early personnel decisions. In particular, the decision to select Ms. Tanden, a divisive and partisan figure in the Democratic Party, could culminate in an intraparty fight, as well as a confirmation battle.Republicans, who are expected to retain control of the Senate, are unlikely to easily pass Ms. Tanden, an Indian-American who advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and has been one of the most outspoken critics of President Trump.The Presidential TransitionLatest UpdatesUpdated Nov. 29, 2020, 6:35 p.m. ETBiden names all-female communications team with Jen Psaki as press secretary.Biden sees orthopedic doctor after spraining his ankle while playing with family dog.Biden team wants to tackle child care, elder care, preschool in one overarching plan.She also faces a challenge from Senate Democrats given her role in the 2016 election: Many of those who worked for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran against Mrs. Clinton, remain convinced that Ms. Tanden was part of a group of Democrats working behind the scenes to scuttle his nomination.Mr. Sanders, who ran against — and ultimately endorsed — Mr. Biden, is the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, which vets the director of the Office of Management and Budget, putting the fate of Ms. Tanden’s nomination under his watch.Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, referred to Ms. Tanden on Twitter on Sunday as a “sacrifice to the confirmation gods,” suggesting that her downfall would sate Republican anger toward Mr. Biden’s presidency and allow other nominees to more easily win confirmation.Drew Brandewie, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on Twitter on Sunday evening that Ms. Tanden “stands zero chance of being confirmed.”The selection of Ms. Tanden, who was involved in the development of the Affordable Care Act as an adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, is likely to resurface questions about the funding of the Center for American Progress. The New York Times reported last year that from 2016 through 2018, the center accepted nearly $2.5 million from the United Arab Emirates to fund its National Security and International Policy initiative.In addition, hacked emails from Ms. Tanden that were released through WikiLeaks in 2016 could also provide additional fodder for her critics.Mr. Biden’s other picks are most likely less contentious. Ms. Rouse, a labor economist, worked on Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2011 and at the White House’s National Economic Council during the Clinton administration in the late 1990s.Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, a pioneer in research on the role of women in the American economy and one of Ms. Rouse’s thesis advisers in graduate school, called her a leading expert on labor markets and education.“She is a deeply thoughtful person and a superb listener who brings out the best of those around her,” Ms. Goldin said.Mr. Bernstein was Mr. Biden’s first chief economist when he was vice president and has written extensively on the power of low unemployment and strong economic growth to bolster workers and wages. Ms. Boushey runs the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a liberal think tank focused on inequality, and was a top policy adviser to Mrs. Clinton in 2016. She has focused much of her research and writing on government initiatives meant to increase women’s participation in the labor force, such as paid leave programs.The appointments drew praise from Kevin A. Hassett, Mr. Trump’s first Council of Economic Advisers chairman.“They have put together a very strong team of experienced policymakers and smart economists,” Mr. Hassett said. “At this difficult time, it is great to know that a strong C.E.A. will be helping to guide policy.”Mr. Adeyemo is an immigrant from Nigeria and has extensive experience working at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, when he was a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff. Mr. Adeyemo was also Mr. Obama’s chief negotiator for the macroeconomic policy provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Democrats ultimately opposed, and served as the first chief of staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After a two-year stint as a senior adviser at BlackRock, he joined the Obama Foundation in 2019 as its president.Michael D. Shear and Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting. More

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    Edward P. Lazear, Economist and Presidential Adviser, Dies at 72

    Edward P. Lazear, a pioneering labor economist at Stanford University who advised President George W. Bush during the financial crisis, died on Monday. He was 72.The cause was pancreatic cancer, the university said. It did not say where he died.Professor Lazear may be best remembered as the founder of a field that has come to be known as personnel economics, which seeks to understand how businesses hire, retain and pay employees. He also founded the Journal of Labor Economics and the Society of Labor Economists.But perhaps his most critical job was as chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers when the American financial system buckled after a housing and debt bubble had burst, forcing the federal government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out financial institutions and rescue a sinking economy.“Eddie Lazear was a rare combination —-an extraordinary academic economist and a dedicated public servant who brought that intellect and skill to the solution of big policy problems,” said Condoleezza Rice, director of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where Professor Lazear held a senior fellowship.In a statement, Mr. Bush called him “a trusted confidant” and “a beloved colleague.”Edward Paul Lazear was born in New York City on Aug. 17, 1948, and grew up in Los Altos, Calif. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1971 and received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, where he worked with the Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker and adopted his approach of applying economic tools to new domains.Professor Lazear began his professional career in 1974 as an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago. He taught there for almost 20 years before joining the Stanford faculty.“He was the most natural economist I ever came into contact with,” said Paul Oyer, an economist at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “He was a deep economic natural thinker; he was born to be an economist.”Professor Lazear wrote a seminal paper about the relationship between worker pay and a company’s productivity and profits; it was based on a case study of the Safelight Glass Company. Productivity at the business soared when it shifted from paying workers an hourly wage to paying them according to the number of windshields they repaired. Professor Lazear figured out that this improvement hadn’t come about just because people had worked harder to earn more money. Rather, he found, the shift in wage policy had changed the composition of the installers: Slower workers had left the company and faster workers had taken their jobs.Professor Lazear wrote another famous paper explaining the rationale behind mandatory retirement, which was outlawed by Congress in 1986. He proposed that it is worthwhile for companies to pay workers less than what they are worth to the business when they are young, and then to raise their wages over time, to the point where they are paying them more than they are worth. But that, he found, meant that employees would try to hang on to their job for too long. Mandatory retirement thus helped solve the problem.“He is the father of a field that has had a lot of influence in the way firms design compensation and make hiring and retention policies,” said Erik Hurst, a labor economist at the University of Chicago. “This is of first-order importance for how people live their lives.”Professor Lazear fell squarely on the right of the economic policy spectrum. He was a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus policies. He later championed the tax cuts signed by President Trump in 2017. He believed in the efficiency of markets and disliked the minimum wage and other government interventions.But even his ideological opponents acknowledged his integrity and commitment to rigorous thinking.“I admired the purity of his commitment to economics,” said Lawrence H. Summers, the former Harvard president and Treasury secretary. “It is very rare among economists who work on things that have a bearing on politics.”Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard, said Professor Lazear’s work had often reached conclusions at odds with conservative views and policies.“He was not ideological on all things,” Professor Katz said, pointing out Professor Lazear’s work with Richard B. Freeman on the value of works councils, which are used in many European countries to give workers voice and power to negotiate with employers.Professor Lazear’s work also served to dispel the notion popular among American conservatives that policies that guaranteed job security condemned Europe to high unemployment and low productivity.During the financial crisis of the late 2000s and its aftermath, Professor Lazear was a critical voice demanding attention to the faltering job market as millions of people lost jobs and many people struggled to find work for months or even years.“You can see in his policy work these concerns for workers and their skills and how hard it is to transition between industries,” said Austan Goolsbee, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration.Professor Lazear is survived by his wife, Victoria Lazear, and his daughter, Julie Lazear. More