Sally Kohn, Opinion contributor
Published 3:15 a.m. ET Nov. 4, 2019
Elizabeth Warren is not opposed to a market economy. She just thinks that those markets need to work for everyone.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only one. According to The Wall Street Journal, many corporate executives are “feeling a bit uneasy about” the prospect of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the White House. They shouldn’t be. In fact, they should be cheering on her possible presidency. Because Elizabeth Warren may be capitalism’s last hope.
That capitalism is even in jeopardy should come as no surprise to any American working hard to make ends meet. On paper, economic growth is steadily climbing and corporate profits are at a record high. Yet, income inequality has also risen at a record pace as real wages for most Americans have remained stagnant.
Does the current system function for all or just a few?
Whether you think capitalism is broken in the United States today depends on who you think the economy is supposed to work for. If it’s shareholders and CEOs, then capitalism is working just fine, thankyouverymuch. But if you think capitalism should also benefit workers — the people who actually supply the majority of labor that makes economic productivity possible — then American capitalism is in desperate need of significant repairs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders famously considers himself a democratic socialist. Elizabeth Warren, however, is a capitalist. Don’t take my word for it: “I love markets — I believe in markets,” Warren said in 2017. And in 2018, Warren described herself as “capitalist to my bones,” language Sanders recently echoed to articulate the main difference between his presidential candidacy and Warren’s. In other words, Sanders believes that capitalism is a bad model for achieving opportunity and prosperity for human beings. Warren doesn’t believe capitalism is bad, just broken. And she wants to fix it.
Indeed, Warren’s capitalist bones have deep marrow. By several accounts, she was a pro-big business “law and economics” libertarian-leaning Republican who became more progressive because she saw that economics on the ground wasn’t living up to its theoretical ideals.
In particular, when as a young law professor Warren went to study bankruptcy courts expecting to find cheaters and deadbeats, she instead encountered a wide range of hardworking, ordinary Americans crippled by economic systems that should have been designed to help them but were instead only helping the rich and powerful.
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The revelation didn’t turn Warren into a fist pumping protester but a thoughtful reformer, for instance coming up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and then leading the fight to implement it. Just like we shouldn’t have cars that suddenly explode on drivers, we shouldn’t have bank loans that suddenly explode on borrowers — loans that banks were getting away with because they weren’t being sufficiently regulated, just like cars were unregulated once upon a time. Warren implemented a smart fix to the economic system in order to make capitalism work better for working people.
The current order needs a bit of a boost
Capitalism is on the ropes. That’s not news to many of the nation’s small business owners who have experienced the U.S. brand of capitalism as decidedly rigged against them more and more in recent years. But mega-corporations and the super-rich need to wake up to the threat they’re facing, a threat their greed for short-term profits and deregulation has exacerbated rather than solved.
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In 1942 — following the economic horrors of the Great Depression — just 25% of Americans said some degree of socialism would be good for the United States. Today, more than four in ten Americans express warm attitudes toward socialism. Perhaps even more telling, according to fascinating research by Harvard Business School’s Michael I. Norton and Duke University’s Dan Ariely, with regard to inequality, a whopping 92% of Americans would choose to live in an economy that looks more like Sweden’s than America’s.
And as much as Trump and hard-line Republicans call any idea they don’t agree with “socialism,” the simple fact is that the choice America faces going forward isn’t between capitalism and not-capitalism but between elitist, corrupt, unequal capitalism and a capitalism that actually works fairly for everyone, including working people. Smart capitalists are reading the tea leaves. They’re watching mass uprisings around the globe, often based on the sorts of economic grievances that animated Occupy Wall Street and even, to an extent, the early anti-bailout Tea Party.
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The bankers and traders and shareholders and CEOs know that if they don’t help fix capitalism’s ills now, there are going to be people in their corporate lobbies wielding pitchforks. It’s in corporate America’s best interest to reform capitalism now rather than, by doubling down on inequality and intransigence, invite a full-scale revolution. Which means in this moment, Elizabeth Warren isn’t corporate America’s worst enemy. She’s their best hope.
Sally Kohn is author of “The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity.” You can find her online at sallykohn.com and on Twitter: @SallyKohn
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