Is there cause for an outbreak of jubilation this week? Certainly, there is one piece of news which brought joy to many, the announcement of what has been greeted as a “breakthrough” vaccine candidate against Covid-19, which its developers claim is “more than 90% effective in preventing” the virus in trial participants. The gold price reacted to this news by dropping almost 5%, its steepest drop in more than seven years. That was less good news. Even so, the gold price has risen from where it was a year ago by almost 25% in Sterling terms, and by nearly 28% in US dollars.
The second bit of good news, if you are a Democrat supporter, is that Joe Biden surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency of the US.
All that needs doing now is to inoculate 7.8 billion people and watch Joe Biden unite a deeply divided nation. While the first will take many months and a globally-coordinated logistical effort that makes the Moon landing look like a cakewalk, the second is beyond hope. The vaccine needs to be approved by regulatory authorities as not just effective but safe; it requires storage until just before use, at minus -70C (-94F)ᵒ; and the magical figure of 60% or more herd immunity will not be achieved on a global basis very fast, given that doses are unlikely to be available for more than 20% of the world’s population. Pfizer, one of the partners in this vaccine, is also alleged to have a reputation for publicity-seeking.
We are still deep in the Covid-19 wood.
Democracy at work
In a parallel wood, Joe Biden got the Electoral College but the Democrats failed to achieve the predicted landslide – he took 50.8% of the popular vote while Trump garnered 47.5% (and independents the rest). The popular vote doesn’t matter – in 2016, Hillary Clinton got more than 65 million popular votes against Donald Trump’s almost 63 million, but Trump got 304 of the Electoral College and therefore won. This time Trump won more than 71 million of the popular vote, against Biden’s more than 76 million – respectively the second-highest and highest popular votes in US history.
Even more staggering is the cost of the election, at around $14 billion for all parties combined, more than twice what the candidates spent in 2016 and almost seven times higher than the parties spent in the 2004 election. Each vote this time cost $94.25, almost 89% more than in 2016. Who says inflation isn’t already here?
Biden and Kamala Harris, his running-mate, are due to be inaugurated on 20 January 2021. Biden has said that it’s now time for America to “unite and heal” and “to come together as a nation”. The wood that surrounds Joe Biden, who will become the 46th President (and at 78 the oldest ever sworn into the office), is so thick it will defy all emollient phrases.
Trump is loathed by just about all mainstream media, which is now depicting him as a bad loser for failing to concede the election and for vowing to contest it on several fronts. William Barr, the US attorney-general, has issued a memo to all US attorneys authorising them to investigate possible instances of electoral fraud in the presidential poll – although evidence of such fraud has yet to be discovered. This kind of behaviour is regarded as unseemly, bitter and reeking of sour grapes.
Biden ran for the presidency twice before so this is third time lucky. He withdrew from the race in 1988 after admitting he plagiarised a speech by the then leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock. Early in his Senatorial career he sided with southern segregationists in opposing court-ordered school bussing to racially integrate public schools. Early career-embarrassments such as these get overlooked in the torrent of Donald Trump’s misdemeanours.
Biden’s overflowing plate
When and if Biden and Harris take up residence in the White House they will find their international and national plates to be overflowing. Relations with Russia and China (neither of whose leaders have yet congratulated Biden) are under severe strain; reinvigorating Nato will take some effort; an anxious UK, just over one month away from a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, eagerly hopes he will look kindly on it; restoring harmony with the European Union should be less of a challenge. He inherits a national debt of $27 trillion and a US federal budget deficit of more than $4 trillion, with a debt to GDP ratio of 128.13%. These problems would tax a President who really had the backing of the country.
The UK’s political class frequently likes to refer to the “special relationship” between the UK and the US. This probably has more of the status of a sentimental myth than anything to do with realpolitik. For now, if Biden is serious about “healing” his disunited country he has enough to focus on by trying to get the US out of its own particular Covid-19 crisis (more than 10 million cases and almost 250,000 deaths). And after that, he needs to work out ways of getting more jobs for Americans. His platform promised a lavish spend on all kinds of goodly works – which he will do his best to follow, if only to secure a second term for the Democrats. Spending money the US does not have, more borrowing is ahead – and the 5% gold price drop this week will retrospectively seem like a modest blip.