TL(PM) DIGEST: COVID-19 vaccines—the next generation
Plus when trade competitiveness goes wrong, a gloomy global economic forecast, and the strange origins of the latest classified document leak
1. Biden administration launches “Project Next Gen” vaccine program
What happened? The White House has initiated a new $5 billion vaccine development program to help prepare the United States for future coronavirus variants and other potential viruses.
Why does it matter? The new program’s funding comes from existing appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services, and it follows from the Trump administration’s successful Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program. As The Washington Post reports, White House coronavirus coordinator, Ashisha Jha, says the program will focus on three primary goals:
[C]reating long-lasting monoclonal antibodies, after an evolving virus rendered many current treatments ineffective; accelerating development of vaccines that produce mucosal immunity, which is thought to reduce transmission and infection risks; and speeding efforts to develop pan-coronavirus vaccines to guard against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as other coronaviruses.
TLP’s take: More than one million Americans died during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many more could have died or been seriously harmed had Presidents Trump and Biden not quickly developed and deployed vaccines in partnership with private companies. Despite politics, our government has the duty and responsibility to prepare properly for future outbreaks and this new project deserves public backing and congressional support.
2. When “competitiveness” goes bad, so does global trade
What happened? Carnegie senior fellow Michael Pettis argues in American Compass that “bad competitiveness” in the global economy occurs when countries like China and Germany suppress wage growth relative to increases in worker productivity, meaning they pay “workers a lower share of what they produce than its trade partners pay their workers.” That in turn weakens global economic demand, either leading to lower worldwide production or forcing countries like the United States to absorb excess global savings these domestic policies generate, whether through “higher unemployment, higher household debt, or higher fiscal deficits.”
Why does it matter? As countries seek to become more “competitive” in the global economy by suppressing domestic wages, they pursue policies like weakening the social safety net and labor that effectively transfers wealth from the working and middle classes to businesses and the already-wealthy. Pettis recommends the United States “take the lead in reforming this very unbalanced global trade regime, not by turning against trade but rather by eliminating the conditions that allow grossly unbalanced trade”—namely, through “new trade agreements that directly restrict the ability of countries to run large and persistent [trade] surpluses.”
TLP’s take: Many Americans sense that there’s something wrong with or unfair about the global trade system set up after the end of the Cold War, and Pettis offers an intriguing explanation as to what’s gone wrong and where America’s trade policy should go moving forward—one that goes beyond the simple pro- and anti-trade positioning that characterizes much of the contemporary political and policy debate.
3. IMF offers more gloomy prospects for the global economy
What happened? A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates global economic growth to remain around 3 percent over the next five years—its weakest growth forecast since 1990.
Why does it matter? Concerns about banking stability, inflation, and debt continue to hamper prospects for widespread growth around the world. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva laid out the balancing act required by governments to help improve growth prospects:
Central banks should continue to use interest rates to fight inflation while using financial policies to ensure financial stability. This is the right course of action, so long as financial pressures remain limited. If that were to change, in other words, if financial pressures were to become more prominent, policymakers would face an even more complicated task with difficult trade-offs between their inflation and financial stability objectives and more difficult balancing act of the use of their respectful tools.
TLP’s take: As the IMF suggests, policymakers and central bankers need to be “agile” as they balance the need to reduce inflation with other pressures—but it may be too late to avoid a “hard landing.” The Biden administration should prepare now for the political battles in the year ahead, whether over ongoing high interest rates, more bank bailouts, or confused and angry citizens facing high costs and possible job losses.
Ultimately, what happens in the global economy directly affects America and vice-versa—and the best policy approaches for America's workers recognize that domestic and international economic dynamics remain deeply intertwined.
4. It came from 4chan—how the recent leak of Pentagon intel rose out of the internet’s backwaters
What happened? Independent investigation site Bellingcat traces the recent leak of classified Pentagon documents on, among other things, the war in Ukraine back to a tiny right-wing Discord community—from whence it proliferated to sites like 4chan and, eventually, Russian social media services. “Bizarrely,” lead investigator Aric Toler writes, “the Discord channels in which the documents dated from March were posted focused on the Minecraft computer game and fandom for a Filipino YouTube celebrity.”
Why does it matter? Unlike the trove of National Security Agency files uncritically publicized by an overly-credulous media in 2013, these Pentagon documents were posted in obscure, backwater chat forums before crudely-altered pro-Russian versions of these print-outs made their way into the wider media bloodstream. That’s new—and there may be other instances of individuals with access to classified documents posting them in the internet’s back alleys that we simply don’t know about yet.
TLP’s take: Something like this was probably inevitable in an age of smartphones and shitposters, but it’s impossible to give these documents total credence and we should remain skeptical of our initial impressions of them as they emerge. Still, their circulation represent a setback for the U.S. foreign policy and could negatively affect plans for Ukraine’s upcoming offensives against Russian occupation forces.
Just one more thing…
The Philly cheesesteak capital of… Pakistan? How Philadelphia’s most famous culinary export became a hit in Lahore.