Why business wants a bipartisan infrastructure bill

August 17, 2021, 10:43 AM UTC

Good morning.

Former Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was Ellen McGirt’s and my guest on Leadership Next this week, to talk about the work he has done as co-chair of “Build Together”, pushing for passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill in the U.S. What’s clear in talking with him is that the “bipartisan” piece of that deal is every bit as important as the “infrastructure” piece.

Why? Because bipartisan agreement, he says, is the only way to rid U.S. policy of the uncertainty that comes from lurching from left to right after each election.

“Uncertainty created by short termism in financial market and in politics has meant that business has started to lose appetite for investments. That’s because most of our investments in the manufacturing sector—whether it be pharmaceuticals, or whether it be chemicals, or whether it be building materials—require 15, 20, 30 year investments, and so your ROI calculations and NPV calculations would fall flat if you saw policy changes affecting key things that you need to count on, like access to raw materials, access to transportation, access to the ability to actually even transport your goods internationally. So, if the political side can’t give you certainty, how does business seek an investment trajectory?”

There was a time not too long ago, of course, when business anchored the right wing of the political spectrum in the U.S. and labor anchored the left. But those days are gone, with ideologues taking the lead on both sides of the aisle, and business left somewhat alienated in the center—breaking with the GOP on many human rights related issues, and with Democrats on excessive taxing and spending policies. Says Liveris:

Business, by definition, is centrist. It’s not shades of red or shades of blue, it’s purple. We can see ROI in this first bill, we can actually see job multiplication and economic expansion and worthwhile investment.”  

When it comes to the $3.5 trillion “social infrastructure” bill, he says, business is not on board. “That package has to be moderated from here.”

While Dow is based in the U.S., Liveris is an Australian, and has spent most of the COVID lockdown there. When we talked with him from Australia recently, he was quick to say that helping the U.S. fix its broken political culture is important to the world.

“There are answers to things like climate change, digital inclusiveness, cyber security… If America is not doing that, I don’t know who will. There is no alternative to America. Sometimes the United States doesn’t understand how many people around the world look to it. Being outside the country the last 18 months, I’ve seen that in spades. Every conversation looks to the U.S. And this bipartisan infrastructure framework looms larger than anything ever before because they say America is willing to lead despite these extreme positions in its politics.”

Worth pointing out our conversation with Liveris took place before the fall of Kabul, which is shining a harsh light on American leadership. You can hear the whole podcast on Apple or Spotify. More news below.

Alan Murray



Kabul chaos

Uncertainty was still gripping Kabul on Tuesday, with the Taliban taking over both the presidential palace and daily services, including managing traffic. Local reports say people are mostly staying inside and off the streets. On Monday, President Biden defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, while allies were reeling from the news—and what it may mean for the future world order. Fortune

Under pressure

Two moves from old school mining businesses this week: mining group Glencore, best known for its coal business, has acquired a stake in the British start-up behind plans for the country's first gigafactory. And BHP, the world's largest mining group, said it would combine its oil and gas business with Australia's Woodside, a bid for scale in an industry that is under pressure to consolidate. The company's shareholders will own 48% of the combined business. WSJ

China slowdown 

Delta variant worries and huge floods in China resulted in lower growth than analysts had expected in July. Retail sales rose 8.5%, while industrial production rose 6.4%. China is experiencing its largest outbreak of the virus so far this year, after it spread from Nanjing in July, alongside flooding that swamped parts of Henan province; meanwhile, the government is in the midst of a regulatory and credit crackdown. FT

On autopilot

Safety regulators in the U.S. will investigate a series of Tesla crashes when Autopilot mode was engaged, involving emergency vehicles. Eleven such crashes have taken place since 2018, with four just this year. Tesla shares sunk on Monday on the news. WSJ


Booster bounce 

First came the vaccine roll out (in some countries, anyways), next comes the booster shots. American experts are now recommending a booster within eight months after people receive their second shot. The Biden administration is expected to announce such a shot this week. Around 57% U.S. population is vaccinated, while much of the world is still struggling just to offer the vaccine. Fortune

Kiwi lockdown

New Zealand has a single COVID-19 case—so the whole country is going into lockdown. The country has pursued a "zero COVID" strategy which has kept life in the country isolated—but otherwise normal. The case, in Auckland, will close down the country for seven days in the capital, and three days in other parts of the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Reuters

Climate targets 

Here's a recurring theme that came up in this quarter's earnings calls: the race to net zero. By the end of March, more than 20% of the world's companies had made such a target, and net-zero talk was featured prominently in at least 30 major companies' Q2 earnings calls, according to Goldman Sachs. Fortune

A single charge 

Mercedez-Benz is just weeks away from beating Tesla with the long-distance charge on its new EQS 450+ model. But it still hasn't hit that holy grail, writes Fortune's Christiaan Hetzner: the 1,000-kilometer EV. It's "a goal that seems frustratingly ever-more-distant even as EV technology advances inexorably forward," he writes. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn. 

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