When the Democrats won Georgia’s two Senate seats last week, US president-elect Joe Biden greeted the victory — which brings his party control of Congress — with a statement that voters “want action on the crises we face and they want it right now”. It was undoubtedly a conscious echo of Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration speech, when the New Deal president vowed “action — and action now”.

Roosevelt, as Biden will, took office amid a deep economic crisis. So did Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice-president. Both predecessors acted to end the economic downturn. But only one fundamentally reshaped the way the US economy worked...

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