All eyes are on President Biden right now. Here’s how his new policies will affect companies and households struggling to weather the pandemic economy — plus more of the week’s top business and tech news. Stay safe, everyone. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (Jan. 17-23)
Not a Moment to Lose
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. began his first days in office by signing a flurry of executive orders to bolster the flagging economy and help those worst hit. He directed his administration to speed up the delivery of stimulus checks to the millions of eligible Americans who still haven’t gotten them, increase the weekly value of food stamps by up to 20 percent and raise the minimum wage of federal workers to $15 an hour. A day earlier, he moved to prolong the existing federal ban on evictions to the end of March at the earliest (it was previously set to expire this month), along with the moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. He is also extending the freeze on federal student loan payments to the end of September.
The social networking app Parler, which had become a hub for right-wing conspiracy theorists, won’t be back online anytime soon. A federal judge ruled against Parler’s lawsuit to force Amazon to restore the app’s platform this past week, stating it was not in the public interest. Amazon previously supplied Parler’s cloud computing services (as it does for many companies), but revoked them after Parler was used to coordinate the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Parler accused Amazon of colluding with Twitter to drive it offline, but could not provide sufficient evidence. The judge also stated that until Parler instituted a better system to moderate “abusive, violent content,” the court would not compel Amazon to host it.
Netflix Sees Green
Regardless of your thoughts on “Bridgerton,” we can all agree that Netflix has been a pandemic staple. And the company’s bottom line is finally reflecting its success. For years, Netflix has relied on borrowed cash to cover the enormous operating costs of churning out huge volumes of content to feed our couch-bound brains. But no longer: The company announced this past week that it would not need to borrow any more money to sustain itself. It’s a major shift for Netflix, and a thumb in the eye to its skeptics who predicted that the company would never break even.
What’s Next? (Jan. 24-30)
Cleaning Up the Workplace
Another item on Mr. Biden’s agenda: creating new coronavirus protections in the workplace. The president has ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to come up with new, stricter guidance for employers to protect their workers from catching or spreading the virus while on the job. Mr. Biden’s order will establish national standards and give OSHA the power to enforce them. This is a big change from the Trump administration’s stance, which chose to leave virus precautions up to employers. Additionally, Mr. Biden plans to allow workers to receive unemployment benefits if they quit jobs that do not follow pandemic protocols, stating “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health.”
So Much for That Deal
Surprise, surprise. China has fallen short on its pledge to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in American products as part of an initial trade deal it reached with the Trump administration one year ago, before the pandemic decimated both countries’ economies. Now, it’s up to Mr. Biden to decide what to do about it. Will he maintain the previous administration’s punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, which also raise prices for American companies and consumers? Or will he find another way to force Beijing to end its business high jinks? It’s an early test for the new administration, which has said it will take a tough stance on China, but has also pushed for enlisting the support of United States allies rather than taking unilateral action.
It’s still a mess. Mr. Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up production of coronavirus vaccines, but manufacturers can only go so fast. The process of getting vaccines into people’s arms has been disorganized, too. Some large employers, like Amazon, have offered to help with the rollout by overseeing the vaccinations of their workers rather than leaving it all on the overburdened shoulders of the health care system. Big-scale corporate initiatives could help get large chunks of the population vaccinated more quickly, but it would also give those companies a competitive advantage in bumping their employees up the line to be inoculated.
Several industries were hoping to see a return to “normal” in 2021, but planning large (and costly) events is still fraught. Art Basel, the world’s biggest contemporary art fair that takes place annually in Switzerland, has been postponed from June to September because of the pandemic. And the Glastonbury music festival in England, also scheduled for June, has been canceled for the second year in a row. Still holding on, despite reports to the contrary: the Tokyo Olympics. Its organizers insist that they will host the games starting this July.