To call the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration’s recently debuted $2 trillion infrastructure bill, an infrastructure bill is something of a misnomer.
The White House itself is selling it as more of an omnibus bill that will “reimagine and rebuild a new economy.” Infrastructure is only one of several of its goals, which include Biden’s ambitions to “create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China.”
These are goals it will not accomplish and, in some cases, lacks the requisite Constitutional authority to accomplish.
Here are three reasons why this bill will wreak havoc on, rather than heal, the economy.
1. The federal government does not create jobs.
Despite what politicians say, stimulus programs rarely have their intended effects. Biden should know this; he was vice-president when then-President Obama touted his Cash for Clunkers program. Much like the American Jobs Plan, which marries the stimulus with partisan goals that have little to do with economic renewal, Cash for Clunkers had two goals: boost auto sales in the middle of the post-housing crisis economic slump and encourage people to trade in old fuel-guzzlers for newer, more fuel-efficient and supposedly greener cars.
Those with eligible trade-ins were rewarded with a $3,500 or $4,500 credit. While sales skyrocketed in July and August of 2009, they plummeted in the following months. All the Obama administration had succeeded in doing was concentrating the period of time in which people considering buying a new car bought one. It didn’t actually increase demand. All in all, the program cost approximately $3 billion. The total costs outweighed the program’s gains by roughly $1.4 billion.
Biden’s American Jobs Plan touts its ability to create 19 million jobs over the next decade. But throwing money at projects — particularly construction projects that have a definitive shelf life — doesn’t actually create jobs. It merely funds economic activity that was already going to happen at some point. There’s no guarantee that once funding dries up, those jobs won’t go right along with them.
On top of that, the cost of each job the program is supposedly going to create is enough to detract from the economy. First of all, Moody’s Analytics estimates the stimulus bill is likely to create around 2.7 million jobs, not 19 million. As Reason points out, though, that means, with a $2.25 trillion price tag, each job created by the bill costs approximately $833,000.
Biden’s assurance that the bill will create high-paying blue-collar jobs aside, that’s nowhere near the salary each job created would command. In the long-run, the bill takes more value out of the economy (i.e., from the hands of taxpayers who might more wisely invest it) than it puts in.
2. Much of the American Jobs Plan’s laundry list is beyond the federal government’s purview.
In a fact sheet published by the White House, the Biden administration brags not just about infrastructure revitalization, but other goals the legislation will accomplish like providing clean drinking water, putting “hundreds of thousands of people to work laying thousands of miles of transmission lines,” and building, preserving, and retrofitting 2 million homes and commercial buildings.
That’s impossible because it requires the federal government having control over private property. Realistically, the administration will incentivize land-owners and commercial real estate owners to do things like retrofit commercial buildings by offering things like grants and tax breaks (which will ultimately drive the final price tag of the bill up.)
But because private property still nominally exists (though government can always threaten noncompliant citizens with eminent domain), touting this goal is little more than grandstanding. Realistically, it won’t be the government doing this work. It will be compliant citizens who either agree with Biden’s objectives or don’t want to deal with the headache of trying to outwit the federal bureaucracy.
But there’s danger in even the insinuation that the federal government has the requisite authority to do things like retrofit commercial buildings: it implants in the mind of the public that it does have both the authority to do these things and the resources to accomplish them. And that sets a precedent that makes it less likely the government’s authority to meddle in locally-managed infrastructure or privately owned property will be challenged in future.
3. Biden’s desire to rely solely on domestic manufacturing will only increase the price tag.
Like his predecessor, Biden is insistent on out-competing China and bolstering domestic manufacturing. The White House brags that the American Jobs Plan will “revitalize manufacturing, secure U.S. supply chains, invest in R&D, and train Americans for the jobs of the future.”
There are several problems with this. In the first place, America simply does not currently have the domestic capacity to produce the materials needed for the infrastructure projects Biden wants to fund. In the second place, Biden has kept many of the tariffs implemented by his predecessor in place. That means not only that domestic goods are currently more expensive to produce, but that supply is further restricted and anyone who purchases goods from overseas risks invoking the wrath of the current economic-nationalist-in-chief.
Ultimately, not only does this add to the final price tag of the infrastructure bill, but it means the supposedly high-paying jobs Biden is touting are inherently devalued. The value of a dollar doesn’t go as far, which means they’re doing more work for less money.
It’s no mistake that the pro-American manufacturing rhetoric of Biden sounds so much like Trump’s. Bringing jobs back from China plays well with the American rhetoric. But tariffs, which are a tax paid by domestic consumers, aren’t the way to do it. And coupling those tariffs with restrictions that require goods to be manufactured in America only makes more expensive the bill. Coupling this economic nationalist rhetoric with infrastructure projects makes no sense.
Like so many other portions of this bill, it only ensures that Americans, forced to fund Biden’s laundry list of policy goals masquerading as an infrastructure bill, will never be able to recoup their investment.
For these and many other reasons, Biden’s American Jobs Plan is more likely to sink the economy than regrow it. The administration would do better to step back, lower taxes across the board, and let in-the-know officials working in the localities where they live figure out how to build America’s infrastructure and economy back.