Building a Neoliberal Build Back Better Bill
What neoliberals liked, hated, and have a blindspot for in the Build Back Better bill
On Thursday evening (Copenhagen Time), I put out a poll to see which of the floated proposals in the Build Back Better bill, sometimes called the reconciliation bill, Neoliberals preferred.1 In 24 hours, 189 people ranked 10 possible spending priorities and 10 possible payfors. From this data, I have found three preferred programs two preferred payfors, several things that were rejected, and a giant blindspot.
Here are the median ranks for the possible spending and payfor priorities. You can see that a few proposals enjoyed broad support, there is a mushy middle, and two proposals were overwhelmingly rejected.
The raw data and all of the graphs can be found on GitHub. This is just one of several ways that this data is useful. All of the code, graphs, and data have been released under The Unlicense. Feel free to remix it to make something new.
Neoliberal Dream Bill
Neoliberals generally liked extending the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), Green Energy Incentives, and Medicare Negotiated Drug Prices.2 They wanted this to be paid for by a Carbon Tax, Increased Tax Enforcement, and perhaps a Value-Added Tax (VAT).
Child Tax Credit
Extending the expanded CTC that was introduced under the American Rescue Plan in March 2021 is the top spending choice for neoliberals. This makes sense. It is a perfect neoliberal social program. It has cut child poverty and potentially expands social mobility. The policy is widely popular among economists with 450 of them signing an open letter to ask for the policy to be extended.
Instituting a carbon tax is the most popular payfor with Neoliberals. This shouldn’t be a surprise. A carbon tax is one of the core things that the Neoliberal Project pushes for. A price on carbon is one of the most efficient ways of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere by forcing consumers and companies to feel the externality of pollution in each transaction that they make. If the US is serious about reducing our fossil fuel consumption, it needs a carbon tax.
Along with a carbon tax, which will help change consumer choices on the demand side, neoliberals support green energy incentives to change energy production on the demand side. Neoliberals probably disagree which exact energy sources count a green; nuclear energy splits the community. However, there is a broad coalition for more research and funding for all sorts of zero-carbon energy sources.
Neoliberals seem to be accepting of the argument that there is money to be made by funding the IRS’s tax enforcement organs. CAP claims that there is $1 trillion to be made by doing this. I don’t fully know if I trust CAP who is something of a Democratic Party cheerleader, but the consensus of policy people that I have seen is that we have not reached the diminishing returns point.
Medicare Negotiated Drug Prices
There seems to be broad, but not overwhelming, support for allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies in some form. I placed this as a spending priority, but many people thought of this as a payfor. The US pays large amounts of money for pharmaceuticals that are much less expensive in other countries. It is to the point that the state of Utah is paying to fly workers who need some expensive drugs to Canada or Mexico to get them because the first-class ticket is less than the difference between the costs there compared to the US. Something needs to be done to get the price of drugs under control in the US.
A wealth tax was one of the most unpopular possible parts of the Build Back Better bill. There are much better ways to raise revenue than taxing wealth.
Also, unsurprisingly, neoliberals had no love for eliminating the cap on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction. While it was done to punish Democratic states who, on average, have higher taxes than Republican states, it was a good policy. Eliminating the SALT deduction cap would be a regressive tax break for people overwhelmingly in the highest income bracket.
I think this polling shows that neoliberals support policies that policy wonks talk about but ignore policies that help families. The Child Tax Credit is great, but raising children in the US is still extremely expensive. The two other policies that would help out families — Child Care/Pre-K and Paid Leave — had middling support. By not having a position on these issues or taking a negative position, neoliberals restrict themselves to their normal base of support — white men without children in their 20s and 30s in education or professional work — and cut off potential support with women, families, etc.
Just like how a carbon tax is part of a neoliberal version of the socialist’s green new deal, a neoliberal family plan should have some version of these proposals. It could be something like expanding the CTC further to pay for childcare or 12 weeks of paid leave at the median wage. If not, all of the pronatalism and pro-family content over the past few years has been nothing more than talk.
I am going to use Neoliberal to refer to people in the community around the Neoliberal Project, Ne0liberal Twitter account, and the Neoliberal subreddit. Not everyone refers to themselves as a Neoliberal — Liberal, Liberaltarian, Libertarian Democrat, Progressive-Libertarian, and Social Democrat are also common identities within the community — but I need a snappy word to encompass everyone.
I listed this as a spending item, but many people think it is a payfor. Whichever way you slice it, neoliberals tended to like it.