President Biden has been touting his economic record in the buildup to the 2024 presidential election, taking a term used to denigrate his economic policies by more conservative columnists—Bidenomics—and turning it into a slogan that may end up defining his campaign.
But Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund and financial services giant Citadel, isn’t buying the Bidenomics campaign strategy. “I mean, whoever told him to run on Bidenomics has no idea how to read an economics textbook,” the Wall Street titan told Bloomberg at the Global Macro Conference in Miami Tuesday.
Griffin, who gave a total of $60 million to Republican campaigns in the 2022 election cycle, including to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ successful reelection campaign, noted that consumer prices have increased almost 20% since Biden took office, but real wage growth has been stagnant. At the same time, the national deficit has increased to $1.7 trillion this year, while the national debt now sits at a record $33.7 trillion. “The American public knows things aren’t working in this economy for them,” he said.
But while many average Americans have struggled under the Biden presidency, Griffin’s own wealth has soared. In 2020, when Biden was elected, Griffin was worth $15.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Today, he’s worth $36 billion.
Investing in the future? Or spending recklessly?
Griffin’s Bidenomics critique hits at the heart of the debate between many economists and average Americans over the health of the economy. The economists note that, according to most figures, the economy is doing pretty well. Despite the challenging headwinds of the pandemic as well as multiple wars in the Middle East and Europe, GDP continues to grow, inflation is fading, and real wage growth has returned in recent months.
But the average American disagrees—bigtime. Years of spiraling prices, rising interest rates, deteriorating housing affordability, and brewing geopolitical conflict abroad have left many Americans feeling uncertain and left behind—a fact reflected in the dismal consumer confidence numbers and in Biden’s unpopularity in polls.
Biden has attempted to reassure voters, routinely highlighting the U.S.’s rapid recovery from COVID-19 relative to other developed nations and the strength of the labor market as key feats of his administration. “We’re living through one of the greatest job-creation periods in our history. And, folks, it’s not an accident,” he said in September. “That literally is our economic plan in action—Bidenomics in action.”
The passage of ambitious spending programs exemplifies the Biden administration’s strategy of investing in growth and labor—at any cost. But that cost, some critics say, is substantial national debt, which fuels inflation down the line.
Last year, Congress passed Biden’s $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act—meant to boost domestic research and manufacturing of critical semiconductors. That followed the prior year’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—meant to revitalize America’s roads, bridges, and railways, as well as improve broadband access, overhaul the electric grid, and create a national supercharging network for electric vehicles. The laws have become cornerstones of Biden’s presidential record, intended to reverse what he calls decades of under-investment in U.S. infrastructure and manufacturing capability.
But despite these long-term investments, most Americans aren’t sold on the economy’s immediate future. Almost 70% of Americans believe the economy is getting worse, and roughly 60% disapprove of Biden’s handling of it, according to a recent poll from the Suffolk University Sawyer Business School/USA Today.
It’s not just consumers who are pessimistic about the economy, Griffin said, noting that Wall Street isn’t too happy, either. “It’s working for no one,” he said. “This is the price of bad economic policies.”
A representative for Citadel declined to comment on Griffin’s take.
When it comes to the presidential election in 2024, the Citadel founder warned that “people are going to vote with their pocketbook,” which means Biden needs to focus on policies that will control inflation and increase real wages. That’s a tall order, though, since the main tool to fight inflation—the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes—work by raising borrowing costs and inflicting pain on consumers.
If people do end up voting with their pocketbook, the stock market’s recent surge is likely to help Biden’s case. With inflation fading and the prospect of the end of the Fed’s 20-month-long interest rate hiking campaign coming into view, the S&P 500 has surged over 17% year-to-date. But for now, despite the stocks’ surge, most polls still show Bidenomics is out of favor.
A November Bankrate survey found that 3 in 4 Americans believe their personal finances are either worse off or about the same since Biden took office.
“The plight of the economy over the next 12 months may help to dictate whether it was wise, or not, for President Biden to trumpet the branding of ‘Bidenomics’,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said of the data. “The risk for President Biden is that he’ll get more blame than credit for the economy. But there’s still a long way to go before Election Day.”