Skip to main content
Faculty Viewpoints

Day-One Advice for President Joe Biden, from Yale Experts

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in on January 20, they will take on an array of monumental challenges: controlling COVID-19, making progress on the climate crisis, confronting racial injustice—all while contending with a fundamentally divided country. We asked faculty members who specialize in these and other subjects what research-based counsel they would give to America’s new leaders.

President Joe Biden signing an order at the desk in the Oval Office

Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defeating COVID-19

Dr. Howard Forman, Professor in the Practice of Management

There is a very long list of things that Biden and Harris will need to tackle, but this is our greatest imperative: we need to provide both resources and leadership in the vaccination efforts being undertaken by the states. We must commit to getting more than half the country fully vaccinated by the first day of summer. We need to provide similar support to COVID testing, with considerably greater attention to genotyping, so that we know about new variants that may be arising and provide true federal vigilance and coordination in this effort. We must make presumptive eligibility for Medicaid a priority so that every person has access to healthcare and does not suffer the health and financial consequences of being uninsured during a pandemic. We need to consistently message science and evidence to rebuild the broken trust that has developed for our scientists and healthcare institutions.

Immigration and Police Reform

Rodrigo Canales, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

Immigration will be on the agenda, both because of its political importance and because we can expect a new wave of migration driven by the effects of the pandemic and the sustained levels of violence in Latin America. There will be no easy solutions, but it is clear that the U.S. will not be able to achieve meaningful progress—much less humane progress—with a unilateral approach. We need a regional, collaborative approach. And immigration policy cannot start at the border with Mexico, but needs to start at the root of the phenomenon and cover each link in the chain of migration.

Establish a clear and quick path to citizenship for all Dreamers. Not only are they citizens of the U.S. in their identity and behavior, but they are also an economic asset to the country.

There is one aspect, however, that is an absolute no-brainer from an economic, social, and political perspective: establish a clear and quick path to citizenship for all Dreamers. Not only are they citizens of the U.S. in their identity and behavior, but they are also an economic asset to the country. And there is broad, bipartisan political support for their integration.

Then there is the question of police reform. There already is a thorough, evidence-based blueprint for the philosophy that should drive the effort: the report from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing. From this starting blueprint, I would recommend an ambitious reform agenda that thinks big, but starts small—and then moves fast.

The process should shift away from traditional police reform, which overemphasizes individuals (and “bad apples”), to conceptualize police departments as the complex organizations that they are. Find a few cities and police departments that sincerely want to partner with their local communities and the federal government to experiment with approaches to reform and generate evidence that can inform local and federal policies. And only after a few cycles of effective experimentation, develop a policy to invite motivated departments to improve—and nudge or force departments that need reform but are resistant to it

Leadership and Culture

Heidi Brooks, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior

My hopes for a strong Biden-Harris transition includes early attention to leadership and culture that creates an environment for learning and thriving.

Given the current context, the administration will need to attend to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 disconnection, racial and demographic tension, and the stress of economic and health threat. We have seen much evidence of a scared, agitated, and threatened populace in the riot and protest behavior of the last year. There is a need for leadership meaning-making that frames the role and place of peaceful protest as part of the fabric of this country. There is a lot of passion, too little empathy, and a lot of confusion about the rights, limits, and role of a U.S. citizen in building our shared experience of trying to live and work together. By acknowledging that they can see a situation from multiple perspectives early in the transition, the new leaders can help to create the psychological safety for people to engage with greater openness and learning at a very difficult time.

Too many people lead in a way that intentionally ignores or is tone-deaf to current issues. Sometimes they believe that silence keeps them safe and out of the fray, but silence is not neutrality—silence can be perceived as condoning the status quo. While Biden-Harris will prioritize what to address and how to frame conversations, it will be important for them to intentionally acknowledge the presence and impact of key divisive issues facing the nation. By addressing the current context in a way that acknowledges these tensions, they can model empathy, indicate awareness of factors that impact the people, and signal values and commitments that can help guide and shape the norms of how we each and all take up our roles as citizens. It’s an important time for Biden-Harris to create understanding of citizenship.

I hope Biden-Harris will aim to craft a compelling vision and shared dialogue about what it means to be a citizen of these United States. I hope they will encourage a culture of learning; we need to adjust to conditions we have never faced before and learn to live together in a future we have not experienced. Can they encourage healthy engagement, debate, and curiosity in a way that inspires hope instead of fear as we face the future together? I hope they take on this transition as a time to learn and grow rather than dig into an overly available, reactive stance of self-protection and fear.

Antitrust Enforcement

Fiona Scott Morton, Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Economics

Lack of competition is a broad-based and persistent problem in the U.S. economy today. Monopoly power is present in many sectors. We have monopoly power in the sale of drugs, devices, and hospital services in healthcare; providers of digital services that have monopolized their markets; buyers and suppliers of agricultural products that are virtual monopolies; and the list goes on.

A Biden administration can push for vigorous enforcement of existing antitrust laws, increased enforcement against monopsony power (that is, a market condition in which there is only one buyer) that harms labor, and an end to competition-harming regulations that are so prevalent in agriculture, transportation, and healthcare. Because the courts are responsible for much of the decline in competition, the most important step a Biden administration can take is to push for Congress to pass a stronger antitrust law. Congress needs to explain to courts that competition is an important American value and the cornerstone of a market economy that serves consumers, not capital, and it should direct courts to protect competition more vigorously.

Preparing for the Public Option

Jacob Hacker, Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies

During the campaign, Joe Biden said he would build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a Medicare-like public option that would be run directly by the federal government, pay prices negotiated by Medicare, and include a drug benefit that bargained for lower prices.

Those who favor a public health insurance option should should use the openings that are likely to exist in the near term to reshape the political landscape for the long term—what I call “building power through policy.”

Given the close division of power in Washington, a public option this robust would be hard to achieve. Elements of it could be passed through the budget process, which is not subject to a filibuster in the Senate, but it is very hard to see these elements gaining the support of the most conservative Senate Democrats, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And unlike some other health policy measures, it cannot be put in place through executive action.

Still, those who favor the public option should not simply throw up their hands. They should use the openings that are likely to exist in the near term to reshape the political landscape for the long term—what I call “building power through policy.”

This path has three key steps: (1) pursuing immediate improvements in the ACA that are tangible and traceable, yet do not work against the eventual creation of a public option; (2) building the necessary policy foundations for a public option (improving Medicare and allowing targeted groups of workers and employers to buy into it), while encouraging progressive states to experiment with state public plan models; and (3) seeding and strengthening movements to press for more fundamental reform, particularly by creating a public health jobs corps that can create grassroots pressure for action while helping deal with the pandemic and its aftermath.

Greening Infrastructure

Bradford S. Gentry, Frederick K. Weyerhaeuser Professor in the Practice of Forest Resources Management and Policy & Senior Associate Dean of Professional Practice, Yale School of the Environment

It will be such an improvement to have an administration that takes both infrastructure and climate change seriously. As part of its efforts to “build back better,” the Biden team should:

• Ensure that America’s infrastructure includes both green and grey. Nature-based climate solutions—living shorelines to help manage flooding, urban parks to help reduce temperatures, and reforestation efforts to store carbon—need to be central parts of our investments in new infrastructure.

• Use public funding for climate solutions to lever private investment; public money alone will never be enough to address the climate crisis. Building on the experience of the Connecticut Green Bank and similar organizations, public money should be spent in ways that lever as much private investment in climate solutions as possible.

• Phase out fossil fuel subsidies while transitioning workers—we need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, while helping workers transition to jobs in other sectors. The focus should be on transitioning individuals, not companies.

Green Finance

Todd Cort, Lecturer in Sustainability

Climate change, inequality, and ecosystem collapse are just some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Solving them will require unprecedented scaling of targeted finance and capital that can only be achieved when business and governments are moving in the same direction. While business and the financial community recognize these challenges, it is sometimes difficult to determine and measure the financial benefits from addressing these challenges.

A first critical policy step will be to create the incentives for more structured disclosure by companies on environmental, social and governance (ESG) data through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules. Specifically, the SEC should move toward a limited set of mandatory reporting rules on ESG in regulated financial reports supplemented with guidance on potentially material ESG issues to be considered on a sector-by-sector basis.

More consistent disclosure of ESG issues that are financially material will lay the groundwork for measuring ESG risks and opportunities and catalyze the flow of capital toward companies that better address ESG aspects.

National Security Priorities

Paul Bracken, Professor of Management & Professor of Political Science
Terminate the endless wars the United States has gotten into over the past three administrations. U.S. leaders have been trying to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Vermont for two decades.

The United States spends $11 billion a year on disease control and $175 billion on counterterrorism. There’s no more simple statement than this to illustrate how misaligned our priorities are with our problems. The bungled handling of COVID-19 (and Operation Warp Speed) is only one example. While China focuses on building a circle of development in Africa, the United States focuses on sending in special forces teams.

But the first thing the Biden administration should do is to terminate the endless wars the United States has gotten into over the past three administrations. I teach Yale College students who for their entire lives have known nothing but these endless wars. U.S. leaders have been trying to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Vermont for two decades, and each year shows the futility of the whole effort. Yet it goes on. My advice for the next administration: end these pointless wars.

Department: Faculty Viewpoints