Special address of Vice President Joe Biden at World Economic Forum Davos 2017
Personally listened to speech and transcribed fully
Other transcriptions (such as Fortune magazine) left out sections
Good morning everyone. I want to thank you and Klaus for your hospitality here and in the United States. You visit me in the United States, you still act as the host. You are so very very gracious.
My name is Joe Biden. I will be Vice President for 48 more hours — and then – tonight I get to start to say what I think, as if I haven’t for the last 44 years. (big smile). Klaus is not part of my presentation, but I promise you I have met so many incredible people around the world that was we begin to reorganize the system of the delivery of both care, as well as the way we attack cancer.. I am confident… absolutely confident – god willing if you have me back next year to talk about the project that we will be making exponential progress. There is so much hope and I’m so happy to see you looking and feeling so well.
Ladies and gentleman, It’s a great honor once again to address this distinguished forum, but this year in these early days of 2017 there is a palpable uncertainty of the state of the world. Klaus said I chose here to make my last speech when the President and I talked about this, President Obama and I, it seemed a fitting place to make the final speech since it was in Europe, on behalf of the United States, made the maiden speech for our administration on foreign policy at the Munich conference. I want to talk about basically the same subject 8 years later. For the members of the media in the audience, I am making it clear that I am not referring the world is uneasy. I’m not referring to the imminent transition of power in our country and I mean that. In 2 days there will be a new President of the United States (someone booed… He raised his hand.. ). No, the challenges we face, the choices we must make as an international community don’t hinge exclusively on Washington’s leadership. It matters, I’m not suggesting that Washington leadership doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t hinge exclusively on Washington’s leadership.
Whether we reinforce the ties that bind us or whether we unravel under the current pressures, these choices have to be made by every single nation. They will determine, and it sounds like hyperbole, they will determine what kind of nation and what kind of nations and the world we are going to leave for our children.
For the past seven decades the choices why our fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers and grandfathers have made – particularly in the United States and our Allies in Europe – have steered the world down a very clear path. After WWII, we literally drew a line under centuries of conflict and took steps to bend the arc of history. It sounds like hyperbole, but we actually bent the arc of history in a more just and fair direction instead of resigning ourselves to ceaseless wars. We built institutions and alliances to advance our shared security.
Instead of punishing former enemies, we invested billions and billions of dollars to help them rebuild. Instead of sorting the world into winners and losers, we outlined universal values that defined a better future for our children.
Our careful, and I mean, careful attention to building and sustaining the liberal international world order with United States and Europe at its core was the bedrock of the success the world enjoyed in the 2nd half of the 20th century. An era of expanded liberty, unprecedented economic growth that lifted millions out of poverty, a community of democracies that to this day serves as a fulcrum for our common security and our capacity to address the world’s most pressing problems.
Strengthening these values, values that have served our community of nations so well, for so long, is paramount to retaining the position of leadership the Western nations enjoy and preserving the progress we’ve made together and, I would argue, the health of the remainder of the world.
In recent years, it has become very evident that the consensus upholding this system is beginning to face incredible and increasing pressures from both within our countries and without.
Today I’d like to speak to the sources of those pressures, as I see it, and about why it is imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order, to sustain it.
Here in this exclusive Alpine tower, where CEOs of multinational corporations rub elbows with world leaders, it is easy to embrace the intellectual benefits of a more open and integrated world. Many many benefits flow from it.
It is at our own peril that we ignore and to miss the legitimate fears and anxieties that exist in communities all across the developed world.
The concerns of mothers and fathers how they feel about losing that factory job that has always allowed them to provide for their families and the expectation that their children would even have a better life. Parents who don’t believe they can give their children a better life than they had.
My Dad used to have an expression “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck” It is about your dignity, it is about your sense of yourself, it is about self-respect, it is about being able to look your child in the eye and say and mean “Honey it is going to be okay.” An awful lot of people felt that way a decade ago aren’t so sure. These are pressures that are undermining the support for the liberal international order from inside.
Globalization has not been an all ? good. I’m a free trader. I’m a strong supporter of globalization, but it has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle or falling to the bottom.
One year ago, I spoke here in Davos about the challenges we face mastering the fourth industrial revolution – which will be a topic of this Forum for the next 10 years – about how can we insure the benefits and burdens of globalization, digitalization, artificial intelligence are shared more equitably.
In my country, there used to be a basic bargain beginning in the mid-20th century embraced by both political parties disagreed only in degree. It was something everyone agreed on. The basic bargain was that if you contributed to the success of the enterprise in which you were engaged you got to share in the benefits and the profits. That bargain has been fractured in my country and many of yours.
Advanced technology has divorced productivity from labor. We are making more than ever with fewer and fewer workers. There is a shrinking demand for low skill laborers while highly educated workers are getting paid more and more contributing to the rising inequity. It is based on a meritocracy, but it still has painful outcomes in some places. International trade and greater economic integration has lifted millions of people in the developing world out of abject poverty. Improving education, extending their lives, their expectations and opening new opportunities
Standards of living are still well below middle class expectations in the United States and Europe, but the change is real and good. Meanwhile many communities in the developed world that have long depended on manufacturing – the opposite is true. Their relative standard of living has declined. They feel shut out of opportunities. Their economic security feels jeopardized. Taken together these forces are effectively hollowing out the middle class, the traditional engine of economic growth and, I might add, of social stability in Western nations. We can’t undo the changes in technology has wrought in our world – nor should we try.
But we can and we must take action to mitigate the economic trends that are stoking unrest in so many advanced economies and undermining people’s basic sense of dignity.
Our goals should be a world where everyone’s standard of living is rising. There is an urgency to taking common sense steps like increasing cognitive capabilities through access to education and job training.
In my country back when I was a young Senator, even in the ’90s, I would talk.. it was very much in vogue to talk to graduating high school and college seniors. I’d say you are going to have seven jobs in your lifetime. I wondered why they didn’t look back at me and smile and say “Isn’t that great.” Continuing education whether you’re an astrophysicist or you working on the assembly line is going to be required.
Insuring basic protection for workers has evaporated from what they were 20 years ago in most of our countries. Expanding access to capital, implementing progressive equitable tax systems where everyone pays their fair share.
I said to a group of folks like you last night.. the top 1% is not carrying their weight. You aren’t bad guys, you are all good guys.
I pointed out.. imagine in terms of standard of living… Imagine most middle class societies like European societies and ours, a person can’t get much of a raise, but if you told them all their kids would get a free college education they’d be very very thankful. A raise or free college education? They’d take the free college education. We can afford to do that in a heartbeat.
In the United States of America we have $1 Trillion 300 Billion tax expenditures per year. Used to be $800 Billion when Reagan was President. No one I have found can justify that many expenditures. Only two reasons for those expenditures, tax breaks… one, promote entrepreneurialism, generate risk, have people engage in productivity, increasing productivity or promoting social good.
This thing called “stepped up basis” – you have similar things in other countries. You buy a stock, it increases 4 fold over a period of time. It goes from $1 million to $4 million. You are on your way to cash it in. You are going to pay capital gains on $3 million. But on the way god forbid you are hit by a truck and your daughter inherits it. She pays no tax. No evidence it generates increased productivity of investment that tax-free money. It costs the Federal government $17 billion a year.
I can pay for every single solitary student in the United States of America going to a community college raising the number from 6 to 9 million, increasing productivity by 2/10ths of 1%, for $ 6 billion a year. Eliminate that one tax expenditure. I can increase productivity, I can cut the deficit by another $11 billion. That’s what I mean by more equity in the tax structure. People paying their fair share.
But compounding these economic worries are people’s fears about the real security risks we face.
If you look at the long streak of history or even just the trend lines in wars and other incidents of large-scale violence over the 50, 60, 70 years. As a practical matter we are probably safer than we have ever been, but it doesn’t feel that way. Daily images of violence and unrest from all over the world are shared directly on televisions and smart phones. Images we rarely would have seen in the pre-digital age. It fosters the feeling of perpetual chaos, of being overrun by outside forces. Communication technology has fostered incredible progress making information more accessible, breaking down barriers between people and nations, facilitating greater scientific collaboration, empowering ordinary citizens to challenge injustice and hold their government’s accountable.
But they also have given hateful individuals a megaphone to spread their virulent extremist ideologies. Radical jihadists not only recruit and find haven in ungoverned deserts of Iraq and Syria. They do the same in the ungoverned spaces of the internet.
Borders seem less real to people. Terrorist attacks seem more inescapable. Fears of unrelenting migration mount as people continue to flee violence and deprivation in their homelands. In the wake of these understandable fears we see the series of alarming responses.
Popular movements both on the left and the right have demonstrated a dangerous willingness to revert to political small mindedness. To the same nationalist, protectionist, isolationist agendas that lead the world to consume itself in war during the past century. We’ve seen time and again throughout history dangerous demagogues and autocrats who have emerged seeking to capitalize on people’s insecurities. This is nothing new in history. In this case using Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic rhetoric to stir fear, sow division, and advance their own agendas. This is at political odds with our values and with a vision that we built and sustains the liberal international order.
The impulse is to hunker down, shut the gates, build walls, exit at this moment is precisely the wrong answer. It offers a false sense of security in the interconnected world. It is not going to resolve the root causes of these fears and it risks eroding from inside out the foundations of the very systems that had spawned the West’s historically unprecedented success.
We need to tap into the big-heartedness that conceived the Marshall Plan, the foresight that planned Breton Woods, the audacity that proposed the United Nations. We can’t rout fear with retrenchment. This is a moment to lead boldly and recommit ourselves to the common principles which remain essential to my nation and to all liberal democracies all over the world.
Of course, their are those who don’t share this vision of the world and those who wish to dissolve the community of democracies and supporting institutions in favor of parochial international order where power rules and spheres of influence lock in and divide nations. We are hearing those voices in the West, but the greatest threat on this front springs from the distinct illiberal and external actors who equate their success with fracturing the liberal international order.
We see it in Asia and the Middle East, where China and Iran would clearly prefer a world in which they have overwhelming sway in their regions. I won’t mince words. This movement is principally led by Russia. Under President Putin, Russia is working with every tool available to them to whittle away at the edges of the European project, test the fault lines among western nations and return to a politics defined by spheres of influence. We see it in their aggression against of their neighbors sending in so-called “little green men” across borders to stir violence and strains of separatism in Ukraine, using energy as a weapon cutting off gas supplies mid-winter, raising prices to manipulate nations to act in Russia’s interest, using corruption to empower oligarchs to coerce politicians.
We see it in the worldwide use of propaganda and false information campaigns, injecting doubt and political agitation in democratic systems, strengthening illiberal factions and forces on both left and right to seek out and roll back the decades of progress from within our systems. We were sought in the cyber intrusions against political parties and individuals in the Unites States of America which our intelligence community all 17 have determined “with high confidence”, I’ve been doing this for 46 years and they seldom use the phrase “high confidence”, that they were specifically motivated to influence the elections. It is not only the United States, I need not tell you, that has been targeted. Europe has seen the same attacks in the past. With many countries in Europe slated to hold elections this year we should expect further attempts by Russia to meddle in the democratic process. It will occur again, I promise you.
Again the purpose is clear, to collapse the liberal international order. Simply put Mr. Putin has a different vision of the future, one of which Russia is pursuing across the board. It seeks to return to a world where strong imposes will through military might, corruption and criminality while weaker nations have to fall in line.
From the first moments of our administration, even as we sought to press the so-called “reset” button with then-President Medvedev – President Obama and I made clear that this is not way for nations to behave in the 21st century.
I was asked to layout our policy in Munich in 2009 February when at the Conference, I said quote “We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and to choose their own alliances.” end of quote.
That was our position, that is our position that should be our position. That has been our position for the last 8 years and is a position that needs to be continued to be championed in the years ahead.
Look, the United States hasn’t always been the perfect guardian of that order, of our order. We have not always lived up to our values and some of our past missteps have provided fodder for the forces of illiberalism. But President Obama and I have worked consistently in the past 8 years to lead not only by example of our power, but by the power of our example.
This is the challenge that will by necessity define the foreign policy agendas of all of our nations as we move forward, so although I’m only going to be Vice President for 48 more hours, I’m here today to issue a call to action.
We cannot wait for others to write the future that they hope to see. The US and Europe has to lead the fight to defend the values that have brought us where we are today. The fight to create a more equitable and more inclusive growth for people at every level, not only in our continents but across the world. A fight for democracy where ever it is under threat whether be it at home or abroad. A fight to lift up forces of inclusion while opposing intolerance in all its guises. A fight to embrace that world order that has gotten us here. Fight to urge those to reject isolationism and protectionism. Fight to block the dangerous proposition (and it is a proposition now) that facts no longer matter.
I work with a wonderful guy in the United States Senate with a great sense of humor. He was the Senator from Wyoming. We’d be in a debate.. he’d stand up and say “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” That the truth holds no inherent power in a world where propagandists, demagogues and extremists carry sway?
Join this fight. We have to continue to invest in this democratic alliances. As it has been for seven decades, the unity of Trans Atlantic connection is essential to addressing the global challenges we all face. Defending the liberal international order requires we resist the forces of European disintegration and maintain our long-standing insistence on a Europe whole, free, and at peace. It means fighting for the European Union. Presumptuous of me to say that as an American. One of the most vibrant and consequential institutions on earth. The EU has contributed to the prosperity of millions through reforms and improved living standards, driving peaceful resolutions in disputes between nations.
It has its short comings. It means keeping open the door for membership in the European and Transatlantic institutions. Those states of Europe on Europe’s eastern edge where people in places like the Balkans and Ukraine continue to strive to be part of an incredible undertaking that is the European Union.
And is used as a tool to get them to reject the illiberalism that has defined their countries for so long. To get them to attack the cancer of corruption in their states. To get them to move into the 21st century.
The EU has been an indispensable partner to the United States because as the EU and United Kingdom begin to navigate a new relationship it remains profoundly in my country’s interest to maintain our close relationship with both parties. For all our people, I think that I can say as a fact … all our people are safer when we work together. We have to continue to stand up for those basics norms of modern nations. Principles of territorial integrity, freedom of navigation, of national sovereignty. Where as I said in Munich… the right of all our nations to make their own decisions to choose their own alliances.
To that end, we must bolster European’s energy independence so that nations are not subject to outside manipulation and improve our cyber defenses and combat misinformation that prevents outsiders from perverting out democratic processes.
In the single greatest bulwark for Transatlantic partnership is the unshakable commitment of the United States to all of our NATO allies. It is a sacred obligation we have embraced. An attack on one is an attack on all. That can never be placed in question. In addition we have to continue to stand with Ukraine as they resist Russia’s acts of aggression and pursue the European path, as long as they are pursuing it in the way that is demanded.
In 2 days the United States will engage in an act that has defined our exceptional democracy for more than 200 years – the peaceful transition of power from one leader in one political party to another. It is my hope and expectation that the next President and Vice President of the United States and our leaders in Congress will ensure that the United States continues to fulfill our historic responsibility as the indispensable nation.
But we have never been able to lead alone. Not after World War II not during the depths of the Cold War and not today. The United States, our NATO allies, all nations of Europe – we are in this together. As the oldest and strongest democracies in the world, we have a responsibility to beat back the challenges that are at our door now.
We must never forget how far we’ve come. How we got here or take for granted that this success will continue without an awful lot of really hard work and investment.
It is only by championing the liberal international order, by continuing to invest in our security, reaffirming our shared values, expanding the cause of liberty around the world that we are going to retain our position of leadership. Because if we don’t fight for our values, no one else will.
The idea of Europe whole and free and at peace, in my opinion, constitutes one of the most audacious consequential visions of the past century. A nation and the notion that after centuries of conflict that Europe could reinvent itself as an integrated community, one committed to political solidarity, the free flow of goods and people, a solemn obligation to collective defense – and succeeded in achieving it was audacious.
The United States believed in it and still believes in it. My prayers.. people across Europe believed in it. They did and aspired to it and I hope they still believe in it. The success of the European enterprise, very simply is essential to American security in the 20th century and remains so in the 21st.
Our Atlantic alliance is the bedrock of addressing so many 21st century threats from terrorism to the spread of disease like Ebola and climate change. You heard me make this claim for four decades, but I’m not alone in this belief. America’s commitment to NATO, not-withstanding things you’ve heard recently, is thoroughly bipartisan.
Just last month my good friend and frequent sparring partner, Senator John McCain, travelled to Estonia where he said quote “the best way to prevent Russian misbehavior is by having a credible strong military, a strong NATO alliance”.
In that same trip another leading Republican and very close friend of mine, Lindsey Graham, assured Ukrainian troops serving on the front lines “Your fight is our fight”.
That’s the same sentiment expressed two days ago when I made my 6th trip to Ukraine as Vice President. History has proven that the defense of free nations of Europe has always been America’s fight and the foundation of our security. Throughout more than four decades of an incredibly divisive foreign policy debate there has always been a consensus about the value of this Transatlantic relationship. And it has to change, and it has to alter, but the essence of it has to remain.
As I enter private life, I can tell you, I will stand with you as you carry this fight forward. I will continue to use my voice and power as a citizen doing whatever I can to keep our Transatlantic Alliance strong and vibrant because our common future and the future of my children and grandchildren depends on it.
Thank you for taking the time to listen.