David Brooks wrote in his January 10 column in the New York Times that what is needed now in the age of the “tribal emotionalism” of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is a third story—one that does not break the world into the “simple narrative” of the “virtuous us and the evil them (the bankers),” but instead focuses on a remoralization of the market.
From the premise that “capitalism is a wonderful system,” Brooks writes that some of the necessary neoliberal reforms taken in the past few decades to cure the economic anemia of the 70s have gone too far and that the market has now been allowed to operate entirely on its own accord. Tellingly, he says that “there’s been a striking shift in how corporations see themselves. In normal times, corporations serve a lot of stakeholders—customers, employees and the towns in which they are located. But these days corporations see themselves as serving one purpose and one stakeholder—maximizing shareholder value.” I couldn’t agree more.
The thing is, the enemy Brooks identifies in his first paragraph—Elizabeth Warren—is the one he should be citing in his second paragraph. In the eons-away-and-yet-already-upon-us battle for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Warren is the only candidate with a feasible plan to do just what Brooks wants. She’s called herself “a capitalist to [her] bones,” and her Accountable Capitalism Act is the most exciting piece of legislation to come from the Democrats in recent memory.
To be sure, Warren uses the language of Bernie—in her announcement video she talks about how America’s middle class is under attack from billionaires who have rigged the system to their advantage, and she supports nearly all of the left’s now seemingly mainstream positions like single-payer healthcare and debt-free college—but she’s also so much more than Bernie.
Why? Well, besides the fact that she actually has real policy bonafides, having spent the better part of her life as a law professor investigating how average Americans are getting screwed over by a corrupt and unholy alliance of government and finance, she actually wants to make markets work, not take them away; she is choosing to focus on structural reform instead of easy-to-critique free stuff proposals. In short, Warren is the Bernie for smart people—dare I say, the Bernie for centrists. David Brooks, high atop his third way perch, should love her.
Here’s where the Accountable Capitalism Act comes in. Warren proposes that companies with over $1 billion in revenue be required to obtain a new federal charter that obliges the company to consider the interests of all stakeholders, “including employees, customers, shareholders and the communities in which the company operates”—just what Brooks asked for. Further, she requires that all such companies permit their employees to choose who will fill at least 40 percent of their board seats. Finally, she wants 75 percent of company directors and shareholders to sign off before a company can make political expenditures.
Through these simple steps, Warren all but guarantees that newly empowered workers can now redirect profits into their pockets and away from infinite stock buybacks, that companies will now more readily consider the environment and the wellbeing of the communities in which they operate and that the pernicious influence of money in politics can be curtailed. Better yet, all this is free!
But what about Pocahontas? It’s a non-issue. Sure, Warren is essentially a white person—Trump’s recent tweet of “Warren, 1/2020” is both grossly hilarious and basically correct—but the fact is Warren’s mother’s Native American ancestry was a big part of her life. Warren’s father eloped with Warren’s mother because his parents didn’t want him marrying a Native American. It also simply isn’t true that Warren was a beneficiary of affirmative action. Warren has handled this issue badly, but giving it more attention is just helping Trump’s racist narrative.
So, while we’ve still got a long way to go, my money’s on Warren in 2020. Yes, in a stark and welcome contrast to the barren field Hillary left with her massive early polling lead in the 2015-2016 primary, this cycle will be crowded and competitive, with seemingly every politician, Silicon Valley alumnus and professional rich person loosely associated with the left set to launch their campaign; however, it seems as of now that none of them can quite compete with Warren.
Biden is myopically focused on a white working class that has forever been lost to the Republicans; Bernie really is now comically old; Booker is, for better or worse, irreparably tied to politically toxic Wall Street and Big Pharma; Beto can’t livestream his way out of a serious lack of experience; Bloomberg appeals to about four people from the Upper East Side of Manhattan; and I frankly have no idea who Gillibrand, Castro, Gabbard or Buttigieg are—and nor will you, ever.
Kamala Harris, my home state’s senator and California’s most telegenic politician since Reagan, is the only other person I’m excited about. She has appeal among minority voters that Warren does not, and her experience as the state’s attorney general, or “top cop,” will likely be an asset in the general election, but that’s just the problem. When I think of Kamala I think of politics, not policy, and if there’s anything to be learned from 2016, it’s that we’ve got to spend the primary figuring out who has the best policies, not who can best beat Trump. Indeed, it’s the only way to beat Trump. That’s why I’m with Liz—for now.