An unusual degree of uncertainty exists regarding the governing agenda of Joe Biden, despite almost a half century in public life. Assuming that legal and other challenges do not reverse the election result, his inauguration will unleash, rather than resolve, the intense rivalry that has developed within the Democratic Party.
A Biden Administration will struggle to achieve the unity and discipline of the “no drama” Obama White House. Our firm’s recent analysis of the policy experts who exercise the most influence with current Biden economic advisors confirms this potential for internal rivalry between legacy elements of the Democratic Party and a reformist Left. Business leaders should be prepared for a period of domestic policy uncertainty, especially on antitrust, financial services, labor, and health care.
Assessment of more than 8,000 public citations made by approximately 30 Biden advisors on economic policy confirms the potential policy-making pandemonium. The 10 individuals most-referenced publicly by senior Biden campaign staff and advisors and Democratic Party leaders include an eclectic mix of standard-bearers and reformers:
Top Policy Influencers on Biden Advisors
1. Michael Linden– Groundwork Collaborative
Linden is a decade or more younger than many of the top influencers. He never served in the Obama Administration and currently focuses on advocacy, serving as executive director of Groundwork Collaborative, which works with “progressive movement leaders and activists on the front lines of progressive causes.” In November 2019, he said regarding “cutting a trillion dollars in corporate taxes two years ago” that “here we are two years later [with] no appreciable difference in business investment, no increase in wages, no increase in jobs.”
2. Jason Furman– Harvard Kennedy School
Furman was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 to 2017 under the Obama Administration and served in multiple roles under the Clinton Administration.
3. Jared Bernstein– Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Bernstein served as Chief Economist to former Vice President Biden during the Obama Administration and worked in the Clinton Administration. He is an advisor to the Biden campaign.
4. Heather Boushey– Washington Center for Equitable Growth
A New York Times feature this year described Boushey as “at the forefront of a generation of economists rethinking their discipline.” She is an advisor to the campaign.
5. Heidi Shierholz– Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
Shierholz’s policy team at EPI focuses on “wage and employment policies coming out of Congress and the Administration and advances a worker-first policy agenda.”
6. Gene Sperling– Sperling Economic Strategies
Sperling is a veteran of both the Obama and Clinton Administrations and was a member of the Auto Task Force from 2009 to 2010. Although in contact with the Biden campaign, Sperling has not served as an official advisor.
7. Ernie Tedeschi– Evercore ISI
Tedeschi is the macro research analyst at Evercore ISI, linked to “the most active independent investment bank in the world.” Evercore’s founder and senior chairman Roger Altman speaks to Mr. Biden on economic issues, according to The New York Times.
8. Justin Wolfers– University of Michigan
Wolfers is a professor of public policy and economics, focused on “labor economics, macroeconomics, political economy, social policy, law and economics, and behavioral economics.”
9. Martha Gimbel– Schmidt Futures
Gimbel is the senior manager of economic research at Schmidt Futures, a grant-making philanthropic initiative founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. She previously worked for the Hiring Lab at Indeed.com.
10. Matt Stoller– American Economic Liberties Project
Stoller previously was a fellow at Open Markets Institute, which focuses on reforming antitrust policy. He then joined the American Economic Liberties Project, which launched in February 2020.
These influencers could have a profound impact, particularly on some of the most contentious issues. Heidi Shierholz commented last year on labor policy: “The rules in this country are rigged against working people from their first day on the job.” Heather Boushey in November 2018 highlighted the alleged failure on antitrust enforcement during the last four decades. Matt Stoller has criticized the Obama Administration’s approach to antitrust and competition, saying, “The Obama White House intentionally concentrated corporate power, because he and his advisors thought it was the right thing to do.”
While the top influencers share a great deal regarding the underlying problems confronting the American economy, serious differences exist on practical solutions. Gene Sperling has warned that economic populism, which he defined as “the 1 percent, or the elites, versus the 99 percent,” could “lead to mistakes in governing.”
Despite encountering significant opposition from party elites during the Republican primaries, Donald Trump’s 2016 victory settled the substance and style of the broader GOP. By contrast, Biden’s 2020 victory will intensify the struggle to define the Democratic Party. Chief executives and other business leaders should anticipate a Biden Administration that entertains policies very different than suggested by Joe Biden’s Senate record.