The Biden administration plans a fundamental transformation of American economic policy at home and abroad. That’s the takeaway from national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s speech at the Brookings Institution last week. Initial press coverage focused on the nuances of China policy—“derisking” is in, “decoupling” is out—but to stop there is to miss the point. This was a big speech about major policy changes, and those who want to understand the direction of American policy in a second Biden term would be unwise to overlook it.
The break with post-Cold War Democratic trade and economic policy is radical. Gone are the emphases on trade liberalization, growth and market-oriented reform. Those misguided policies, in the administration’s view, are responsible for many of the ills afflicting humanity today. China’s ascent, the erosion of the American middle class, the rise of populism, climate change and financial instability are the consequences of the flawed economic policies promoted by, among others, President Bill Clinton and his Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.