I Am Become Manchin, Destroyer Of Progress

The issues were the same in Washington on Thursday. There was incremental progress, but no sign of any serious breakthrough.

The US averted a government shutdown after the House and Senate passed a stopgap funding bill that kicks the can to December 3. Democrats were forced to remove language that would have suspended the debt ceiling.

There was no end in sight to the debt limit drama, unless by “end” you mean a technical default sometime in October. It won’t happen, but that’s not the point. The point, rather, is that America has no functioning legislature.

The House has a debt ceiling bill, but it’ll die in the Senate. And the bipartisan infrastructure plan was at risk of dying in the House as Progressives held out for assurances on a broader package of measures including a historic expansion of the social safety net.

Joe Manchin doubled down against his own party and against the White House. “What I have made clear to the President and Democratic leaders is that spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity,” he said, in a statement.

That’s nonsense. The US can pay for anything it wants. Manchin was trafficking in propaganda. There’s nothing denominated in US dollars that the US can’t afford. Social Security and Medicare included. All it takes is for Congress to authorize the spending.

Manchin leaned heavily on the inflation argument. “Suggesting that spending trillions more will not have an impact on inflation ignores the everyday reality that America’s families continue pay an unavoidable inflation tax,” he said. “Proposing a historic expansion of social programs while ignoring the fact we are not in a recession and that millions of jobs remain open will only feed a dysfunction that could weaken our economic recovery.”

There’s some truth buried in those remarks. There is a record disparity between job openings and hires. And the US isn’t in a recession, or at least not on paper. Some individuals are in a recession, that’s for sure. And economic momentum has almost surely peaked.

Still, charts like the one shown below do raise questions about whether now is the time to administer another adrenaline shot.

“The old estimates suggested a new long cycle, as the output gap was not expected to be positive even as far out as 2030… in stark contrast to the latest estimates of a +2.5% output gap in Q3 next year,” SocGen wrote over the summer, referencing CBO estimates and adding that “if realized, this would be the highest output gap level since 1973 and would be consistent with a 3% unemployment rate!” (The exclamation point is in the original.)

You can conjure any number of similarly flashy visuals. For example, the figure (below) juxtaposes the output gap estimate with monetary policy.

Of course, a lot of today’s implicit derision relies on textbook economics, which critics have an amusing habit of citing as infallible when it bolsters their narrative, and totally unreliable when it doesn’t.

Whatever the case, Manchin’s statement sounded like it could’ve been written by Mitch McConnell. And he (Manchin) didn’t bother to delve into what’s really driving up costs — namely, supply chain friction, some of which looks intractable. I’d wager such frictions will persist far longer than any “boom” in demand, especially if folks like Manchin won’t back social spending.

Manchin went on to insist that “the amount we spend now must… not [be] designed to reengineer the social and economic fabric of this nation or vengefully tax for the sake of wishful spending.”

Again, Manchin sounds like a Republican, not a Democrat, “moderate” or otherwise. The whole point of Biden’s social spending plan is to “reengineer the social and economic fabric” of the nation. That’s literally the plan, almost verbatim. Maybe you like Manchin’s position, maybe you don’t, but let’s drop the charade. Manchin opposes the plan itself, not just the spending associated with it.

Although he said he’d like to “fix the flaws of the 2017 tax bill and ensure everyone pays their fair share,” I’d be remiss not to note that Manchin’s net worth is nearly $8 million. I’m sure he pays his fair share, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s no “average Joe” when it comes to his personal economic situation. And neither, by the way, is Bernie Sanders. Or Elizabeth Warren. Or Mitch McConnell. Or hardly anyone else in Congress. It’s not just the Fed that lacks economic diversity.

Sure, there are “rags to riches” stories on the Hill, and that’s nice, but by and large, Americans don’t have much in the way of “representation” if that word is supposed to entail having a seat at the table vicariously via someone whose circumstances are similar to their own.

Needless to say, Manchin’s statement served to harden the resolve of Progressives. “This is why we’re not voting for the bipartisan bill until we get a reconciliation bill,” Pramila Jayapal told reporters. “After that statement we probably have even more people willing to vote no.”

Later, it emerged that Manchin sought to limit the social spending bill to $1.5 trillion, a full $2 trillion below the top line compromise price tag. “I’ve never been a liberal,” he told the media.


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16 thoughts on “I Am Become Manchin, Destroyer Of Progress

  1. Bernie rag to riches trip mostly involved publishing some books about wealth inequality and class warfare (the one waged by the wealthiest among us against the majority). It’s a bit of a catch 22. Do you try to spread your ideas and get paid for doing so or stay silent, ignored… but virtuously poor…

    I’ve got the feeling it’d give up a goodly chunk of his riches to see his program implemented. That’s enough purity as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Indeed…

        though, I’d argue the key difference (for me) is this : “the entire premise of his media company (which still exists, by the way, all these years later) was a total fabrication. He had no interest in being “the genuine article,” despite the fact that his entire reputation was built on the idea that only he was capable of delivering the unvarnished truth about capital markets and, eventually, geopolitics, to the public”.

        You can get lots of money by peddling what a niche audience or indeed a wide audience wants to hear and, sure, at some point, you’re going to have to make choices between being true/authentic and maybe pleasing that audience/protecting your business.

        But if you’re willing to prioritize the truth and if you didn’t set out to maximize your own wealth, I honestly don’t begrudge messengers their money. OTOH, I’ve kind of given up on things improving. I now just want to be intelligently entertained, maybe intellectually challenged but am okay with mostly wallowing in cynicism.

        Better men than me have failed to improve the system. Better writers/public intellectuals than me are constantly failing at moving the needle in any public discourse.

        Hopefully technology/post scarcity and transhumanism will save us…

        1. It’s not niche. It’s one of the largest websites on the planet and far from “prioritizing the truth,” it traffics in outright, demonstrable lies about anything and everything, from the economy to the weather to celebrity gossip.

          1. Also, if I recall, you have a demonstrable penchant for kinda/sorta refusing to accept the notion that you may be unwittingly consuming large amounts of foreign-sponsored propaganda every day. I think it’s you (and forgive me if I’m misattributing) who consistently argues that Fox News is a bigger influence than Facebook and, for example, Kremlin-sponsored misinformation campaigns. This comment of yours: “I now just want to be intelligently entertained, maybe intellectually challenged but am okay with mostly wallowing in cynicism”… suggests you might be mistaking state-directed or state-influenced media for “intelligent entertainment” and/or misinformation for “cynicism.” It’s not a fine line. It’s a big, bold, red line. But most people in America can’t see it. And, as I’ve mentioned to you previously, it’s not a successful misinformation campaign if you can identify it as such. If consumers of misinformation can readily identify it as misinformation, that’s a failed operation. Fox News just is what it is. It’s been eroding America’s democracy and tearing the country’s social fabric apart since inception. What I’m talking about is newer, more sophisticated and much more difficult to spot, unless you’ve operated on the other side of the (iron) curtain.

            I’ve suggested to you previously that you don’t fully appreciate or understand this. That’s not an opinion. Based on your comment history, it’s a fact. You consistently downplay the influence of Facebook, social media in general, foreign propaganda and misinformation, preferring instead to suggest Fox is the sole source of societal breakdown in America. To the extent that is a generally accurate description of your viewpoint, I would just reiterate that it’s incorrect. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a statement of fact. Of course, you won’t be persuaded. And that’s fine. But it’s that very refusal to be persuaded that allows misinformation to run rampant, unidentified, while everyone points the finger at Fox’s cartoon anchors.

          2. Not sure if the comment will appear in order.

            When I was mentioning “niche”, I wasn’t thinking about your example but smaller bloggers etc. on sometimes specialised topics.

            I think it’s you (and forgive me if I’m misattributing) who consistently argues that Fox News is a bigger influence than Facebook and, for example, Kremlin-sponsored misinformation campaigns.

            No, you’re right, it’s me. Either I’m repeating myself too much or you’ve got an impressive memory! 🙂

            This comment of yours: “I now just want to be intelligently entertained, maybe intellectually challenged but am okay with mostly wallowing in cynicism”… suggests you might be mistaking state-directed or state-influenced media for “intelligent entertainment” and/or misinformation for “cynicism.”

            FWIW, I don’t use FB anymore. Too much of a time sink and my friends aren’t into politics/economics… at least, not in public. I never used Twitter. Or Snapchat. I do watch TikTok but mostly humor and cosplay videos so I feel Russian propaganda is bound to be limited there… 🙂 Intelligently entertained is people like Kevin Drum, Noah Smith, Matt Yglesias, Scott Alexander or Freddie deBoer. Hopefully none are Russian stooges, though Freddie is a Marxist…

            I’m not saying I’ve never seen misinformation. I may or may not have recognised it as such but, for example, in France, given the fact that Le Pen and Melanchon receive fundings from Moscow, I don’t have problems thinking their pro-Russian stance is partly financially motivated (though, in truth, right wingers genuinely like Putin for its authoritarian machismo and Melanchon is still caught up in reverence for Mother Russia, the fountain of Marxism-Leninism).

            With regards to the Fox News/FB debate, I’d like to think that I’m open minded. I think I’ve linked to research showing Fox News real impact on voting patterns, something that people studying FB impact have not been able to show. I also think that you underestimate how believable people believe Fox News to be because they look like news and news anchors. But maybe I’m wrong? I won’t be convinced by even someone I respect (you) stating “it’s a fact” but I’m willing to think “well, if H is that convinced, maybe I should review my opinion”. And so I’d like to point out I’m willing to revaluate my position if we have data or clever research showing FB (or Twitter) impacting voting patterns.

          3. … voting patterns or vaccination patterns or whatever we can think of that would show FB having an impact comparable to Fox News.

            One thing I’ll concede is that establishing people’s preferences via Facebook usage etc. allow for more targeted fund raise or “drive the vote”/campaigning efforts. But that’s just social media enabling better marketing efforts. Presumably, D and R are relatively evenly matched in that department.

  2. Instead of discussing issues piecemeal- Americans are absolutely capable of having a complete discussion about what we, as a country, want (not necessarily can or should) to provide for our citizens and how we will fund such programs- tax, borrow or print?
    See Switzerland’s quarterly process for voting on issues.
    Americans absolutely can comprehend the pros and cons of those 3 alternatives.
    It is the politicians who refuse to have that conversation because by handling things piecemeal- they have more opportunities to be financially rewarded. Check out the Georges Berges gallery for their upcoming auction of Hunter Biden’s art.
    Only in Merica!! It really is “Idiocracy”.

  3. Manchin isn’t a Republican because he doesn’t believe in subjecting himself to a lazy wanna be fascist spoiled brat. A better descriptor for him would be Corpocrate. He believes in supporting corporations and getting rich off of doing so the same way that Republicans do. And you can’t support corporate America if you empower laborers. People like him are what have completely destroyed credibility in the Democratic party. And at this point with the Republican party being a full on Autocratic party, I think it’s unfair to lump everyone else into the other party and consider them all the same. It’s past time to de-adopt the two party system.

  4. The irony is that West Virginia would benefit more than most states from Biden administration plan. Same with Arizona no doubt. The intelligent thing is for Congress to come up with a compromise second bill that the Joe Manchin’s will complain about but vote for and the “progressives” can live with. That is the art of legislating- Biden and Pelosi in particular are masters of this art. FIngers crossed that they can push the ball over the goal line. Remember everyone complained that ACA (Obamacare) was not good enough? It probably fell short but at some point the program will be expanded so that all will be covered. The tragedy will be if the Democrats come away with nothing. It will be a long 3 years if that is the case….. and we might even see Trump part Deux.

  5. Perhaps Manchin can teach us his calculus of how politics trumps economics. Or maybe we can teach him about self-interest and truly representative government. Why is it that the “taker” states — those which receive more federal spending than they contribute — are so much more concerned about fiscal rectitude and fairness? And the more they “take,” the more likely they are to be red states and still somehow against MORE taking. The GOP and DINOs keep worrying about socialism in this country, but should be more focused on the anti-socialism in their own ranks.

  6. Assuming there is no deal on the infrastructure plan and failure to raise the debt ceiling, while company managements deliver downbeat forecasts during Q3 earnings calls, the stock market is likely to dictate where fiscal legislation goes should we get a meaningful pullback. In other words, legislation will get done but it will take a big hit to wealth to get Congress to adequately legislate.

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