Is America About to Have Its Perestroika Moment?

Is America About to Have Its Perestroika Moment?

The Biden administration recognizes that America’s sociopolitical and economic system no longer works. But can it be reformed?


It's good that policymakers are finally admitting our problems are real. But, as Gorbachev could attest, fixing these problems requires buy-in from multiple levels of society, which may not be so disposed toward change.

Consider Wall Street. Can U.S. banks, the originators of credit and the economy’s most essential actors, truly accept that the Trente Glorieuses of American finance have ended? The current low-interest rate environment has already led these institutions to increase spending on lobbying in DC by 20 percent. Will venture capitalists, private equity firms, and investors—those who have gotten fantastically wealthy in the pro-speculation environment of the past few decades—welcome a world where options are limited? A world where investing in tech app companies that deliver 5-10x returns in two years is no longer an option, and instead money must be directed towards long-term (ten to twenty years), low-return (relative to tech), risk-loaded projects like factories, refineries, and the like? Common sense says such change would be fought every step of the way.


What about the military-industrial sector? Will the major prime contractors, who have gotten rich off of the current financial paradigm while failing to deliver productivity, be open to painful adjustments? Will the U.S. Army be receptive to arguments that their budget must be cut to empower the Navy? Will various congressmen really vote in favor of closing down unnecessary bases, factories, and other job-producing facilities in their own home districts? Will hundreds of former senior-level military officials, including influential and media-savvy types, embrace a fiscally necessary end to their lucrative consulting gigs?

Perhaps most concerningly, what of nonprofits and the broader media space? Much of the sector’s recent growth was due to surplus capital and a low-interest rate environment—billionaires being able to fund NGOs and media empires because there was plenty of money. Think Jeff Bezos’ famous acquisition of the Washington Post, private equity companies’ buying of newspapers, or even cryptocurrency exchange Binance’s $200 million“strategic investment” in Forbes. Now that the (low-interest rate) party is over, the preference for the service sector is ending, and economic adjustments must be made, much of the money that allowed these socially important but economically “unproductive” enterprises will vanish. In the past week alone, Buzzfeed News shut down, Vice Media closed its flagship program and is looking to sell itself, Insider cut 10 percent of its staff, and Disney will be laying off 7,000 employees in its news division—including Nate Silver, the founder of the opinion poll analytics website FiveThirtyEight (a favorite of the Washington DC class). Will this throng of employees, and others like them, who are typically college-educated and politically savvy, not fight back like mad to prevent “change” that is taking their jobs, even if said jobs are fiscally unsustainable in a new economic environment? This notion alone should cause Democrats and many Republicans to take pause and worry.

Has Time Run Out?

At this point in time, implementing a U.S. industrial strategy will not be easy, if at all feasible. While still wealthy and powerful, the United States faces internal political division, multiple external challengers, and, perhaps most worryingly, strongly entrenched internal interests that would take a firm line against any sort of radical but needed change in the country’s national and international economic doctrine. Without a clear plan of attack, the Biden administration’s agenda—to say nothing of any potential successor administration's efforts after the 2024 election—could well founder.

Policymakers and experts must address this reality and come to grips with its implications. Otherwise, the country risks waking up one day, like the French monarchy, to tiles being thrown from the roofs by enraged citizens—an eerie prelude of what could follow.

Carlos Roa is the Executive Editor of The National Interest.

Image: Shutterstock.