Debating Biden

I agree with the assessments in the editorial “Against Biden” [November 25] that Joe Biden is weak and distracting as a candidate and that we should be grateful to have a wider lane of progressive candidates than we’ve had in the past. So it’s disturbing that, according to polls and interviews, many people with sympathies for the progressive candidates are inclined toward Biden or one of the other centrists because they think those are safer bets for defeating Donald Trump. But that evaluation may well prove wrong.

A poll is needed that asks people which candidate they favor without regard to any estimate of electability. If more people prefer the progressives than emerges in the current polling, then broadcasting that finding might persuade voters to vote for their true choice.
Susan Sugarman
princeton, n.j.

So in 2016, Hillary Clinton was bad, and Bernie Sanders was great—and The Nation and others with a similar bent (which I share) attacked her during the nominating process. Then she won the nomination, after which came a grudging acceptance, especially as progressives realized the disaster that awaited if the Republican won. The Republican won, and it has been a disaster.

It would be nice if The Nation had learned from that experience that you do not attack the Democratic candidate you disagree with. You lay out how other candidates have better positions while explaining that those you find disagreeable are still better than Trump’s. But The Nation has learned nothing from 2016. Then again, many of my fellow lefty Democrats didn’t learn anything from 1968, 1980, 1988, or 2000 either. So perhaps as you criticize Biden for making the same errors over and over again, you might want to look in the mirror.

Michael Green
las vegas

Andrew Yang’s Fuzzy Math

It is unfortunate that my friend John Nichols seems to have bought Andrew Yang’s upside-down understanding of the economy [“Yang Isn’t Ready,” December 2/9]. Yang’s basic story is that we are facing a massive wave of unemployment due to the spread of automation and artificial intelligence. This is a story in which we are seeing enormous increases in productivity, as we can now produce the same output with many fewer hours of work or, alternatively, can produce hugely more output with the same number of hours of work. The basic problem with this story is that all the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Rather than being a period of exceptional productivity growth, the years since 2005 have been a time of extraordinarily weak productivity growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity growth has averaged just 1.3 percent annually over the last 14 years. That compares with 3.0 percent annually in the long golden age from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005.

Not only is it flat-out wrong to claim that we are seeing a massive displacement of labor by technology; there is no reason to think that workers would be suffering if we did. The high-productivity-growth years from 1947 to 1973 were ones of rapid wage gains and low unemployment.

Basically, Yang has gotten everything wrong. It’s as though we had a major presidential candidate warning us about the dangers of global cooling. He is wrong on both the economy’s problems and his proposed solution.

Dean Baker
Senior Economist
Center for Economic and Policy Research