Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

Endorsing Warrenism

Wil Wilkinson had an interesting column in The New York Times a while back.His general thesis is pretty well summarized in this paragraph:

Democrats are hungry for reform, not revolution. To oust Mr. Trump and especially to govern effectively, Democrats need a fighting creed that avoids both Mr. Biden’s blinkered complacency and Mr. Sanders’s quixotic hand-waving. She may be gone from the race, but Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. Democrats should pick up the fallen flag of Warren-ism and run.

Wilkinson points to the uncomfortable truths that sentient Americans now recognize–our government is increasingly corrupt, and that corruption isn’t confined to the Trump crime syndicate ensconced at the White House.  It has been building for many years.

A self-reinforcing spiral of regulatory capture, self-dealing and influence-peddling has led to intensely concentrated power that is at once economic and political. That concentrated power has rigged the rules that define the structure of America’s democracy and economy to the advantage of the powerful at the expense of ordinary Americans. This has deprived us of our most vital means of collective self-defense: meaningful democratic control over the institutions that shape our lives. Unless we fight to unrig the system, millions of us will continue to live and die on the terms of unaccountable power.

Wilkinson notes that while Warren’s “I have a plan” approach is seen as less revolutionary than Bernie’s inflexible socialism, it is for that very reason more threatening to the plutocrats who benefit from our systemic distortions, because it’s much more realistic about the way things actually work– the political and economic incentives that ultimately determine who gets what and how much.

I personally support what Wilkinson calls “Warrenism”–especially her hostility to the gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, felon disenfranchisement and the filibuster that rig the system and make a mockery of equal representation.

Warrenism grasps what many other Democrats (like Mr. Biden) don’t: Liberalism is on the ropes because it became complacent about power. We liberals got ahead of ourselves and began to take the institutions of inclusive, liberal-democratic capitalism for granted — despite the fact that our first serious strides toward full democratic equality were taken well within living memory. The collapse of Communism made us think we’d won for good, and we became fixated on tweaks to liberal institutions to enhance economic efficiency or make them better conform to academic ideals of distributive justice rather than tackling their deep-seated structural and procedural flaws.

Read that paragraph again, because it identifies our greatest challenge: our inability as citizens to recognize the dangers of complacency, and our obligation to consistently participate in the political process. No political contest is ever won or lost for good. Apathy is always dangerous, not least because when people finally wake up to the mischief done to democracy while they were “checked out,” they too often respond by over-reacting (what we used to call “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”)

That’s why I hope Elizabeth Warren stays in the Senate, where she has been so effective and can move that body (hopefully, under new leadership) in the right direction. I know many fans want to see her as Vice-Presidential candidate, but as John Nance Garner reportedly said,” being Vice-President isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Elizabeth Warren’s great talent is her ability to offer studied and calibrated solutions to the complex structural problems that bedevil us. She has produced what Wilkinson calls a “tough-minded agenda for returning control to the democratic citizenry,” and he says that while we are arguing among ourselves about whether the rise of populist nationalism is due to economic or racial anxieties (or both), whether we need a universal basic income,  or whether the fine print of Bernie’s Medicare for All Plan is the best way to achieve universal health care, we haven’t been doing the most important thing–“rallying for a dogfight.”

The fat cats who currently benefit from our structural distortions won’t simply retreat from the field, even if–as I fervently hope– there is a massive “blue wave.” It’s important to know where we want to go–but it is equally, if not more, important to have a plan for getting there.


We Don’t Seem To Be Making Progress…

A couple of days before Elizabeth Warren withdrew from the Presidential race, I came across an article from Vox  by Matt Yglesias that explained my concerns about her electability. Mind you, I had no concerns at all about her capacity to do the job; in my opinion, she and Mayor Pete were the two most intelligent and thoughtful candidates running. My doubts about her electability were based on my own life experience–experience that has led me to conclude that many Americans still aren’t ready to vote for a woman for President.

Especially a smart woman.

Talk about your “implicit bias”–there’s a very telling meme that has been making the rounds on Facebook: a man saying about every woman candidate “I’m definitely willing to vote for a woman. Just not this woman.”

On the other hand, Warren was the preferred choice of my own sons, and significant numbers of men (and women) I know, so I considered the possibility that my concerns were overblown. Vox disabused me.

In an article written before Super Tuesday, Matt Yglesias considered why Warren was fading.

There are specific tactical decisions (by both her campaign and her rivals) that brought her to this point. But a larger context to understand is that if you, like many of my friends, find the situation puzzling, that is probably because you know a lot of people who are demographically similar to yourself. I’m a highly educated white person, and most of my friends and acquaintances are also highly educated white people. Elizabeth Warren is very popular with people like us.

The reality is that there aren’t that many people like us — and there’s a valuable lesson in that, not just about the Warren campaign specifically but about some of the larger dynamics in American politics.

It’s our bubbles again. The article featured a chart that told the story: Even when Warren had fallen to fourth place in national polling, she was first with white college graduates and first with Democrats who have advanced degrees.

The problem is that politics is a numbers game, and we are not in the majority…The overall level of educational attainment in the United States is simply lower than many college graduates seem to realize.

In a way, we might consider this good news: evidently, more education does mean less misogyny, and over time–perhaps–the deeply ingrained bias against women will moderate.

But for those of us who want to believe we’re progressing down the path to equality, a recent Guardian report should disabuse us of that rosy fallacy.That report found that, globally, nine out of ten people exhibit bias against women.

Almost 90% of people are biased against women, according to a new index that highlights the “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality.

Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.

The first gender social norm index analysed data from 75 countries that, collectively, are home to more than 80% of the global population. It found that almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders and more than 40% believe men make better business executives. Almost a third of men and women think it’s acceptable for a man to beat his wife.

This may explain the people who were willing to vote for a man who bragged about his sexual assaults, and who judged women solely on the basis of their looks. It also explains why those same people won’t vote for a woman, no matter how qualified.

According to an index spokesman, the information collected shows that on average, attitudes are “sliding back” – that anti-woman biases, instead of shrinking, are growing back.

“We’ve found that, if the current pace continues, 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – will not achieve any of the key gender equality targets we studied by 2030.”

These countries are not just the poorest. If trends over the past two decades continue, the US will be among them.

I’d love to believe that the attitudes I encountered as a woman in law school and in various professional roles weren’t representative, or at least were dwindling. But the evidence says otherwise. We have a long way to go if we want to stop wasting 50% of the planet’s human capital.

I find this very depressing….

Happy International Women’s Day…..


Medicare For All? Or For All Who Want It?

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have made “Medicare for All” a centerpiece of their campaigns. Pete Buttigieg has offered “Medicare for All Who Want It.” Both proposals have generated criticism, and in my opinion, most criticism of both is misplaced, because the discussion fails to distinguish between two very separate issues: 1) what would a sensible system look like, and 2) how do we get there?

I was prompted to revisit the issue because my cousin–the cardiologist I often cite on this blog–has done his own analysis of the current state of healthcare in this country, and concluded that a single-payer system is both preferable and inevitable. (Those who want to get “into the weeds” of that analysis should follow the link.)

In my most recent book, I also make the case for single-payer–and point out that a fully-implemented single-payer system would be much less costly than our current patchwork, dysfunctional approach. Virtually every economist who has analyzed the situation agrees. That doesn’t necessarily mean that taxes wouldn’t go up, but any increase would be more than offset by savings on premiums, co-pays and other costs currently borne by individuals and employers.

At any rate–I’m in full agreement that a single-payer system is needed. I depart from the “vote for me and I’ll change the system” approach being taken by Warren and Sanders because there is an enormous mountain to climb between where we are and where we need to be, and the suggestion that all we have to do to get a single-payer system is elect a Democratic president (or perhaps a Democratic president and Senate) is ludicrous.

It isn’t simply that politically powerful insurance and pharmaceutical  companies would throw everything they have into that debate. Voters rebel when they are told they will be forced into a new system, no matter how demonstrably better off they would be. Just getting the Affordable Care Act through Congress took enormous political capital, and that was after numerous (unfortunate but necessary) concessions.

In a recent column for the New York Times, political scientist Jacob Hatcher writes that we shouldn’t lose sight of what Ms. Warren is trying to do.

She’s making an evidence-based case for shifting the debate away from the perilous place it’s now in. Rather than “Will taxes go up?” or “Will private insurance be eliminated?” she wants us to ask a more basic question: How can we move from a broken system — a system that bankrupts even families who have insurance and produces subpar health outcomes despite exorbitant prices — to one that covers everyone, restrains prices and improves results?

I actually don’t see Warren asking (or answering) that very important question–she seems to be making the case for an immediate change that would eliminate all private insurers, and if my impression is correct, it is a politically fraught case.

Nevertheless, “how” is the most important question. As Hacker writes,

Getting to affordable universal care has always been a problem of politics, not economics. Given that the United States spends much more for much less complete coverage than any other rich democracy, it’s easy to come up with a health care design that’s much better than what we have. The problem is figuring out how to overcome three big political hurdles: financing a new system, reducing disruptions as you displace the old system and overcoming the backlash from those the old system makes rich.

Yep. And that brings me to an interesting paragraph in my cousin’s post. Dismissing the “public option” (which is what “Medicare for All Who Want It” really is), he writes,

Even now, given our current healthcare pricing, a medicare type program, operating with lower administrative costs, would be far cheaper than those offered by their private counterparts. This would allow employers to willingly relinquish expensive private plans in favor of the cheaper public option that would reduce the cost burden of extra employee benefits. This means that the public option would likely supplant the present private plans completely in short order. (Emphasis mine.)

Yes. That’s the point.

“Medicare for All Who Want It ‘ isn’t the answer to the “what” question. It’s the answer to the “how” question.






This Won’t Pass–But It Should

In addition to her Corporate Accountability measure, discussed yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced an “anti-corruption” bill, based on the highly dubious theory that We the People are capable of learning from our mistakes.

Nothing about Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act should trigger Congressional outrage, but I predict that the blowback will be fierce; the Act’s assault on money in politics is pretty much guaranteed to enrage the plutocrats who are used to buying Congressional votes for their policy preferences.

As Vox describes it,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) envisions a United States government in which presidential and vice presidential candidates must — by law — disclose eight years’ worth of tax returns and place any assets that could present a conflict of interest into a blind trust to be sold off (neither of which President Donald Trump has done).

Those two provisions are just the beginning.

Her proposed fix envisions a Washington where the president, vice president, Cabinet members, and congressional lawmakers have a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists, and other federal workers have restrictions — albeit less severe — on entering lobbying firms. The act would also bar federal judges from owning individual stocks or accepting gifts or payments that could potentially influence the outcome of their rulings.

And in Warren’s plan — laid out in a new bill called the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act— this would all be overseen by a new US Office of Public Integrity, which would go after violators and usher in a new era of ethics law enforcement.

The idea is to “isolate and quarantine the ability of big money to infect the decisions made every day by every branch of our government,” she said in a speech on Tuesday. That means all three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The bill is designed to completely overhaul a system that has benefited politicians in both political parties. No more revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, no more hiding tax returns, no more benefitting from inside information affecting stock ownership… Here are some of the key provisions:

  • lifetime ban on lobbying for presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet secretaries.
  • Multi-year lobbying bans for federal employees (both Congressional staffers and employees of federal agencies). The span of time would be at least two years, and six years for corporate lobbyists.
  • Requiring the president and vice president to place assets that could present a conflict of interest —including real estate—in a blind trust and sell them off.
  • Requiring the IRS to release eight years’ worth of tax returns for all presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as requiring them to release tax returns during each year in office. The IRS would also have to release two years’ worth of tax returns for members of Congress, and require them to release tax returns for each lawmaker’s year in office.
  • Banning members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, White House staff, senior congressional staff, and other officials from owning individual stocks while in office.
  • Changing the rulemaking process of federal agencies to severely restrict the ability of corporations or industry to delay or influence rulemaking.
  • Creating a new independent US Office of Public Integrity, which would enforce the nation’s ethics laws, and investigate any potential violations. The office would also try to strengthen open records laws, making records more easily accessible to the public and the press.

The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act can be viewed as a companion, of sorts, to Warren’s  Accountable Capitalism Act, described in more detail in yesterday’s post.

Elizabeth Warren is often labeled “left-wing,” a description that says more about how tribal our politics has become than it does about her policy proposals. (Efforts to protect consumers from predatory business practices and the American public from corruption are neither Left or Right–unless you categorize upholding the rule of law as “Left.”)

Each of these measures goes to the heart of the problem being addressed; neither “nibbles” around the edges of systems that have outlived whatever utility they may once have had. Their virtue is that they “blow up” and replace systems that have become corrupted.

That virtue, of course, is also their fatal flaw, and why neither is likely to pass.

Elizabeth Warren–Telling It Like It REALLY Is

I would be shocked if Hillary Clinton chose Elizabeth Warren for the VP slot. The Democrats have a good chance of regaining control of the Senate, and it would be foolhardy to give Republicans a “freebie” by choosing a Senator from a state with a Republican governor.

Besides, in the Senate, Senator Warren is stiffening the spines of her colleagues.

Warren has become a hero to many Americans (including this one) and one of the reasons for that, in my view, is her uncanny ability to explain complex realities in language that everyone can understand.

During her Senate campaign, her defense of taxation–really, a defense of the social contract–went viral, and is still being widely quoted; more recently, she did it again.

Warren is, of course, famous for her attacks on too-big-to-fail banks. But in her address yesterday, entitled “Reigniting Competition in the American Economy,” she extended her critique to the entire economy, noting that, as a result of three decades of weakened federal antitrust regulation, virtually every industrial sector today—from airlines to telecom to agriculture to retail to social media—is under the control of a handful of oligopolistic corporations. This widespread consolidation is “hiding in plain sight all across the American economy,” she said, and “threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy.”

Antitrust is one of those legal theories that can make citizens’ eyes glaze over. But–as Teddy Roosevelt understood, and economists and businesspeople have come to recognize–vigorous enforcement of antitrust rules is essential to the proper operation of markets. Without such regulation, we do not have the healthy competition that a capitalist system requires; instead, we have corporatism and corruption.

As the Washington Monthly put it, in a post describing Warren’s speech,

As our readers know, economic consolidation is a subject the Washington Monthly has long been obsessed with—see here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here. In our current cover story, Barry Lynn (impresario of yesterday’s event) and Phil Longman argue that antitrust was the true legacy of the original American Populists and a vital, under-appreciated reason for the mass prosperity of mid-20th Century America. But this legacy, and the new Gilded Age economy that has resulted from its abandonment, is not a narrative most Americans have been told (one reason why even the “populist” candidates running president have shied away from it).

The Washington Monthly included the entire text of Warren’s speech. You should click through and read it. It’s not only a model of clarity; it’s a model of common sense.

Elizabeth Warren is the politician who really “tells it like it is.”