Senator Warren Speaks

Selections from her Rolling Stone interview:

Did you grow up listening to country?
Yeah — Hank Williams. I thought everybody listened to Hank Williams. That was the kind of music we were around. That, and rock & roll. Remember, I have three older brothers.

I’ve heard two of them are Republicans.
Uh-huh.

Do you argue about politics?
Well, we have very different views about particular political issues when it comes up. And this has been true for a long, long, long time. When I talk with my brothers, it’s much more about what’s right in the country than what’s wrong in the country. We talk a lot about worry — that young people today have fewer opportunities to succeed than young people had years ago. It’s not true for everyone, but the notion that I could go to a college that cost $50 dollars a semester — that opportunity’s just not out there. That my brothers could go to the military without a college degree, and that was a pathway to a solid middle-class life.

You were a Republican for much of your adult life. Does that give you an advantage to understand conservative voters, to be able to tailor your message—
I would describe it not so much as tailoring as finding the part in the heart where we ultimately, as Americans, agree with each other. Much of the conversation that I now have publicly about corruption — how the rich guys are sucking up all the wealth and leaving everyone else behind — is a long-running conversation I’ve been having with my brothers for decades. They get it. My Democrat brother and my two Republican brothers understand that the rules for billionaires and corporate executives are not the same as the rules for their kids. And they don’t like it. And neither do I.

Your family had financial trouble when you were a kid. Obviously, it’s shaped your political philosophy, but I’m curious how it impacted your personal relationship with money.
I’ve always been afraid there won’t be enough money. Always. I’ve always saved. I’ve always watched the prices of everything. And I’ve always worried about the rest of my family, worried about making sure everyone is OK.

Your dad was the breadwinner before he had a heart attack, and your mom had to go to work to provide for your family. You often describe your mom as encouraging you to get married rather than pursue your education, almost setting you up to end up in the same position she was in.
I think she would have described it as “Be very careful about the man you marry.” That was the pathway to success, not “Go create a path for your own financial independence.” Now, it took a lot of courage for my mother at 50 to take on her first full-time job. But it was never something she was happy about. She didn’t say, “What a great and fulfilling opportunity that was!” She saw it as work born of necessity, because she had to take care of her family and she wanted me to be safe. And to her dying days she still believed that the best way for a woman to be safe was to be married to a man who earned good money.

One of the things that I’m struck by is that, in just the past five years, you went from advocating for incremental changes — I’m thinking of the Buffett Rule, which would have lowered student-loan interest rates, versus the wealth tax, which would wipe out student debt altogether. Did you make a conscious decision to get bolder, or was it a function of the political climate?
I’m actually going to argue with you on the premise of the question. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is big structural change. For a decade, a handful of consumer advocates and researchers had seen what was happening with deceptive mortgages, cheating credit-card companies, and really horrible payday loans. And every one of them had a little piece of the solution. “Let’s change this rule on mortgages. Let’s put in a new protection on credit cards. Let’s do something different about regulating payday loans.” My idea was to build an agency that would fundamentally change the relationship between the government, credit issuers, and tens of millions of customers. The government would act very much like the Consumer Safety Commission and say, in the same way that you can’t sell a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of burning down your house, no one gets to sell a mortgage that has a one-in-five chance of costing a family their home.

Is it hard for you to see what’s happened to the CFPB under [this president]?
No. I mean, look, do I dislike his current director? Yes. Because she [Kathy Kraninger] has made clear she is on the side of the lenders, not the consumers. Mick Mulvaney did everything he could to try to hobble the consumer agency. But here’s the great thing about how that agency worked: When it’s got a good strong director, it’s nimble, and can move forward fast, and that’s exactly what it did in the first five years of its existence. And when it’s got someone who is trying to sabotage its work, it holds steady. It hasn’t gone backwards. The rules haven’t gotten easier. The agency still does its supervisional work, which is way out of the headlines. So I think, if anything, what Mulvaney has shown is you can try really hard to break that agency, but it hasn’t happened.

The slate of plans you’ve proposed would be financed by a wealth tax — an idea that wasn’t in the mainstream before you proposed it. What was the moment that made you decide to target accumulated wealth, and what gave you the confidence Americans were ready for this idea?
The truly wealthy in this country aren’t making their money through working and producing the kind of income that ordinarily gets taxed. Instead, they’ve built great fortunes that now have their own money managers and PR firms to protect those fortunes and make those fortunes grow, and, boy, are they growing — they are growing faster than incomes all around this country.

But what was the moment for you, specifically, when you decided to take this on, when you decided this could catch on in America?
I had a conversation with some tax specialists who showed me how much more money there was tied up in great fortunes than in annual incomes. In other words, they showed how much more money a two-cent wealth tax would raise, even though it’s only on the top one-tenth of one percent.

A wealth tax is a tax on accumulated fortunes, not on [the income of] people that are going out and working every day. It’s time for us to look at those fortunes and think about the kind of country we want to be. Do we think it’s more important to keep [the people who own] those fortunes from paying two cents on the dollar or to have the money to invest in an entire generation?

How would you implement your agenda if the Supreme Court blocks the wealth tax? When you were developing the plan, was that a possibility you discussed?
I went at this the other way: I talked to a lot of the country’s top constitutional scholars, and they were confident that the wealth tax fits within Supreme Court precedents and that, if someone raised an objection, [the tax] could be drafted in a way to meet any challenge.

You’ve described yourself as a capitalist at heart — you believe in markets. But you’ve got a plan that would end the market in health insurance, and to a certain extent, student loans. Was your faith in capitalism shaken by the outcomes those markets produced?
I have always understood that some markets just don’t work. We invest in public education because a market for first grade will not get our children educated. We invest in roads and bridges because a market for infrastructure won’t open up the opportunities we need to make this economy grow. So I believe in markets, but there are two important limits. One is, there are some areas that are not market-driven, and health care is one of them. Second, markets without rules are theft. So even in places where markets can work, the government has a role to play in making sure that the rules create a level playing field and that those rules are consistently enforced.

President Obama said recently that Democrats’ plans need to be “rooted in reality.” Do you think that’s a fundamental misreading of this political moment?
I think of the fight I’m waging as very much rooted in reality — the reality that someone crushed by student-loan debt can’t buy a home, or start a small business, or make much traction of any kind in building some financial security. People with young children, or who are considering having babies, are caught right now in a reality that child care is wildly expensive, and often not even available at any price. A plan for universal child care is rooted in their reality.

One of your earliest forays into politics was battling Joe Biden in the Nineties over bankruptcy reform. There was a big difference back then in your two worldviews. Do you have those same differences today?
Our differences are a matter of public record, and I haven’t changed any of my views. The fundamental problem I see in Washington today is the influence of money. The giant corporations who can spread it around, the billionaires who can buy influence, the lobbyists who are there every day to advance the views of those who pay them well to attend every meeting. It’s why my campaign starts around this question of how power is distributed. Our government works great for those with lots of money and not so much for anyone else. And that’s been a problem for a long, long time.

Did you get the sense that he ever grasped your criticism of the bankruptcy bill?
I don’t want to go back and relitigate 15 years ago.

I’m curious whether you think more Americans are in debt today because of that bill that Biden championed.
Let me say it the other way: A lot fewer people can get the help they need today because of the change in the laws. That’s what the research I did with my co-authors [showed]. There’s been so much work on this, too, about families caught in financial hell who can’t get any help because the bankruptcy laws were tightened to the point of suffocation back in 2005.

A year out from the election, head-to-head polling shows Biden beating [the president] in some battleground states, and you losing to him. More than 40 percent of those who said they would support Biden but not you also said women who run for president “aren’t very likable.” What do you even do with that information?
I think about the last three years, and the role that women have played in politics. Plain old electoral politics. Look, I went to [his] swearing in. I thought it was important. I know others decided not to. I come from a witnessing tradition: I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I wore my Planned Parenthood scarf wrapped around my neck to keep me warm, and watched as he was sworn in. I remember flying back to Massachusetts that night and thinking, “They could take away health care from tens of millions of people by next Friday.” The Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House. What have we got left? What are we going to do? And, chewing on that as I went to bed that night, got up early the next morning, and then went to the Women’s March and saw exactly what we could do. We could come together, and we could raise our voices, and we could make change. I spoke at the Women’s March on Boston Common and I realized: This is how we’re gonna do it.

It’s women who have been in the fight for a long time, but it’s also women who are coming into the fight for the first time. And friends of women: men who were completely taken aback by what had happened in 2016. Do you remember the coverage on this? You have to really kind of go back and remind yourself. [After] the Women’s March, everyone says, “Well, yeah, but will they still be here in a month?” And the answer was: Yeah! Now there are more women who are in this, and more people who are turning it into action, not just a protest. You’re seeing all over the internet: You don’t like what’s happening? Get out there and run for office! If you don’t wanna run, find someone who does wanna run and go help ’em. Go volunteer! Go knock on doors. Be a campaign manager. And that’s what happened. And then we had the wins in Virginia in 2017, and rolled into 2018. Women have changed the political landscape. In Nevada, to see a women-majority state Legislature. And women responsible for the election of other women and of good, strong, progressive men. Sure enough, one of the first things that happens in the Nevada Legislature is gun-violence legislation passes. Real change. The wave of 2018 is about a changing democratic landscape. 2019 has given us the first stirrings of that. So the battle now becomes: Is America a democracy that is going to be run by the billionaires and the people who suck up to the billionaires, or are we going to be a democracy built on a grassroots movement, on people who engage and say my personal life is at stake here?

But is there anything you can do to address that underlying dynamic?
I do it every day. I go out and meet people every single day, and shake hands, and talk to people about the things that touch their lives. [I’ve met] more than one couple in the selfie line, where she says, “I dragged him here,” and then he says, “But I’m all in now.” I’ll take that.

There is a perception that you made a tactical error on Medicare for All — that this wasn’t your signature issue, but you were under pressure to provide details on how you would pay for it. Do you think you made a mistake?
I’ve spent most of my adult life working on the question of why people go broke. Health care, housing, child care, and sending a kid off to school have created huge pressures on middle-class families. Combine that with largely flat incomes, and it’s pretty easy to see how tens of millions of people across this country are deep in debt and living just one financial bump away from collapse. It’s important to me to talk about all of those issues, and that’s what I’ve done. Not just since I’ve started running for president, but throughout my career. One of the exciting parts of running for president is I get to talk about not just what’s broken, but what we could do to fix it.

What do you think is the single biggest challenge facing the country right now?
That our government works better and better and better for a smaller and smaller group at the top and is leaving everyone else behind. That is shrinking opportunity for tens of millions of people and ultimately undermines our democracy and our entire future.

If you could implement only one of your plans, which one would it be?
It’d be anti-corruption, because then everything else would change.

Is there a specific piece—
All of them, because that’s the thing with corruption: Money doesn’t make itself felt in Washington in just one way. It’s in hundreds of ways, and thousands of ways. It’s the obvious — around lobbying and the revolving door with Wall Street and with the defense industry — but it is also in very subtle ways. The United States Supreme Court has no rules of ethics, so justices can take freebie vacations with groups that will repeatedly appear in front of those same justices to argue cases. That is thinly disguised influence-peddling. Think of it like water that’s flowing everywhere. It’s not like you can say, “Oh, there’s one, and if you stop it here you’ll stop the whole thing.”

What do you think it’s going to take to break down the cynicism and loyalty that Republican elected officials, and also Republican voters, have for [the president]?
I think that it’s going to happen in pieces. It will start right now in the run-up to the 2020 election. It’s important to reframe the conversation away from [him]. [He] wants everything to be about him. The 2020 election is partly about [the president], but only partly. It’s about things that have been broken in this country for decades. [He] is just the latest and most aggressive symptom. It’s about talking about what’s broken and showing the people we can fix it. It’s about optimism that the vote counts. That we can make something happen.

And then the second part is to start delivering on that promise. And when we do, that’s when the world really starts to change. When I get to sign the bill that cancels student-loan debt for 43 million Americans, the whole world takes a click in a different direction. Millions of young people, Democrats and Republicans, who have only seen the government as on the other side — as a debt collector — suddenly it’s a government that’s on their side. I think the student-loan debt forgiveness will be a pivotal moment in reframing the tension in this country away from the tired old left-right, and toward the fundamental question of who this democracy works for.

I’ve read that you get dressed in four minutes. Are there other things you do to cut down on decision fatigue?
I wear my hair the same way all the time. I buy the same kind of shoes, I buy the same pants, and the same tops, a narrow range of sweaters, and a narrow range of jackets.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen, and if nobody will get physically injured, then give it a try.

What’s one piece of financial advice that you think everyone should know?
Debt is really dangerous — far more dangerous than you think.

Is there anything you wish more people understood about you?
That everything I do — good, bad, and indifferent — comes from the fact that I care. All of it.

Last question: You named your golden retriever after George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life. So I have to ask: Bailey’s Building and Loan, good bank or bad bank?
Good bank. I haven’t watched the movie in years—

I think there are those who would argue it’s a subprime mortgage lender
Actually, I disagree with that. He wasn’t trying to extract value out of those folks. He just used a different method for determining who was creditworthy. In fact, I’m surprised that you asked that question. He didn’t try to do accelerated mortgages that were going to cost people their homes or suck thousands of dollars of value out of every transaction. They were trying to help people build some wealth! It’s why we named our dog Bailey. And Bailey is a very good boy.

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It Makes You Wonder

Elizabeth Warren looked like she might become the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. But announcing her Medicare For All plan without simultaneously describing her sensible transition plan, as well as attacks from the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, have cost her a lot of support. She’s probably in third place now.

Still, I watch this brief video from a speech she made once, probably before she became a senator, and wonder what we could do with a president like her.

Who would you choose as president? A talented, hard-working woman who became a nationally-recognized expert on the law of bankruptcy, who knows what it means to struggle in America, and who has serious plans to fix our problems? Or a semi-senile, racist con man whose businesses declared bankruptcy six times (after he was handed $100 million dollars by his father), while “the burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen”.

Maybe we as a nation are too far gone to deserve a president like her.

Sacha Baron Cohen on the Greatest Propaganda Machines in History

The comedian spoke out this week. The problem he discusses may be insurmountable, given that anyone with an internet connection has the technological ability to communicate with everyone else who has one. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that more people are demanding reasonable limits on the power of these gargantuan, unregulated companies.

The Guardian has a full transcript.

 

Checking In With Krugman

Prof. Paul Krugman summarizes where things stand with the economy and Our Dear Leader.

[DT] marked the anniversary of 9/11 by repeating several lies about his own actions on that day [Note: the New York Times cowardly referred to them as “exaggerations”]. But that wasn’t his only concern. He also spent part of the day writing a series of tweets excoriating Federal Reserve officials as “Boneheads” and demanding that they immediately put into effect emergency measures to stimulate the economy — emergency measures that are normally only implemented in the face of a severe crisis.

Trump’s diatribe was revealing in two ways. First, it’s now clear that he’s in full-blown panic over the failure of his economic policies to deliver the promised results. Second, he’s clueless about why his policies aren’t working, or about anything else involving economic policy.

Before I get to the economics, let’s talk about one indicator of Trump’s cluelessness: his remarks about federal debt.

In addition to demanding that the Fed cut interest rates below zero, Trump declared that “we should then start to refinance our debt,” because “the USA should always be paying the lowest rate.” Observers were left scratching their heads, wondering what he was talking about.

Actually, however, it’s fairly obvious. Trump thinks that federal debt is like a business loan, which you can pay down early to take advantage of lower interest rates. He’s clearly unaware that federal debt actually consists of bonds, which can’t be prepaid (which is one reason interest rates on federal debt are always lower than, say, rates on home mortgages). That is, he imagines that the government’s finances can be managed as if the U.S. were a casino or a golf course, and it never occurred to him to ask anyone at Treasury whether that’s how it works.

But back to the economy. Why is Trump panicking?

After all, while the economy is slowing, we’re not in a recession, and it’s by no means clear that a recession is even on the horizon. There’s nothing in the data that would justify radical monetary stimulus — stimulus, by the way, that Republicans, including Trump, denounced during the Obama years, when the economy really needed it.

Furthermore, despite Trump’s claims that the Fed has somehow done something crazy, monetary policy has actually been looser than Trump’s own economic team expected when making their rosy forecasts.

In the summer of 2018 the White House’s economic projections envisioned that this year three-month interest rates would average 2.7 percent, while 10-year rates would be 3.2 percent. The actual rates as I write this are 1.9 and 1.7 percent, respectively.

But while there’s no economic emergency, Trump apparently feels that he’s facing a political emergency. He expected a booming economy to be his big winning issue next year. If, as now seems likely, economic performance is mediocre at best, he’s in deep trouble.

Remember, Trump’s two signature economic policies were his 2017 tax cut and his rapidly escalating trade war with China. The first was supposed to lead to a decade or more of rapid economic growth, while the second was supposed to revive U.S. manufacturing.

In reality, however, the tax cut delivered at most a couple of quarters of higher growth. More specifically, huge tax breaks for corporations haven’t delivered the promised surge in wages and business investment; instead, corporations used the windfall to buy back stocks and pay higher dividends.

At the same time, the trade war has turned out to be a major drag on the economy — bigger than many people, myself included, expected. Until last fall the general expectation was that Trump would deal with China the way he dealt with Mexico: make a few mainly cosmetic changes to existing arrangements, claim victory, and move on. Once it became clear that he was really serious about confrontation, however, business confidence began falling, dragging investment down with it.

And voters have noticed: Trump’s approval rating on the economy, while still higher than his overall approval, has started to decline. Hence the panicky demands that the Fed pull out all the stops.

But while Trump realizes that he’s in trouble, there’s no indication that he understands why [Note: Prof. Krugman is being unnecessarily polite]. He’s not the kind of person who ever admits, even to himself, that he made mistakes; his instinct is always to blame someone else while doubling down on his failed policies.

Even actions that look like a slight policy softening, like his announcement of a two-week delay in implementing some China tariffs, betray a deep incomprehension of the problem — which has as much to do with his capriciousness as with the tariffs per se. Policy zigzags, even if they involve delaying tariffs, just add to the will-he-or-won’t-he uncertainty that’s causing companies to put investment on hold.

So what happens next? Trump could reverse course, and do what most people expected a year ago, reaching a deal with China that more or less restores the status quo. But that would be a de facto admission of defeat — and at this point it’s not clear why the Chinese would trust him to honor any such deal past Election Day.

Unquote. “It’s not clear why the Chinese would trust him” is an understatement of cosmic proportions.

Eviction vs. Conviction

We hear a lot about criminal justice in America and how it adversely affects the lives of black men in particular. A similar story should be told about housing in America and how it adversely affects the lives of black women. Lots of black men get convicted. Lots of black women get evicted.

Katha Pollitt’s 2016 review of “Evicted”, by Matthew Desmond, in The Guardian:

What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals – that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values – or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable? These are the questions at the heart of Evicted, Matthew Desmond’s extraordinary ethnographic study of tenants in low-income housing in the deindustrialised middle-sized city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

You might not think that there is a lot of money to be extracted from a dilapidated trailer park or a black neighbourhood of “sagging duplexes, fading murals, 24-hour daycares”. But you would be wrong. Tobin Charney makes $400,000 a year out of his 131 trailers, some of which are little better than hovels. Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher who is one of the only black female landlords in the city, makes enough in rents on her numerous properties – some presentable, others squalid – to holiday in Jamaica and attend conferences on real estate.

Desmond follows the intertwined fortunes of eight families and a host of minor characters. Arleen Belle and Doreen Hinkston are black mothers clinging to the edge of low-wage employment; Crystal and Trisha are fragile young black women whose upbringing was violent and chaotic; Lamar is a genial black father of two who lost both his legs to frostbite when he passed out on crack in an abandoned house; Scott is a white male nurse who lost his licence when he stole opioids from his patients; Larraine, also white, is a slightly brain-damaged sweet soul. It is sometimes a little hard to keep up with the storylines as they weave in and out of the text, but no matter. What is important is that Desmond takes people who are usually seen as worthless – there is even a trailer-dweller nicknamed Heroin Susie – and shows us their full humanity, how hard they struggle to retain their dignity, humour and kindness in conditions that continually drag them down.

The main condition holding them back, Desmond argues, is rent. The standard measure is that your rent should be no more than 30% of your income, but for poor people it can be 70% or more. After he paid Sherrena his $550 rent out of his welfare cheque, Lamar had only $2.19 a day for the month. When he is forced to repay a welfare cheque he has been sent in error and falls behind on rent, he sells his food stamps for half their face value and volunteers to paint an upstairs apartment, but it is not enough. People such as Lamar live in chronic debt to their landlord, who can therefore oust them easily whenever it is convenient – if they demand repairs, for example, like Doreen, or if a better tenant comes along. Sherrena liked renting to the clients of a for-profit agency that handles – for a fee – the finances of people on disability payments who can’t manage on their own. Money from government programmes intended to help the poor – welfare, disability benefits, the earned-income tax credit – go straight into the landlord’s pocket and, ironically, fuel rising housing costs. Public housing and housing vouchers are scarce. Three in four who qualify for housing assistance get nothing.

Even in the Great Depression, evictions used to be rare. Now, each year, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of renters are put out on the street. Even a paid-up tenant can be easily evicted. Arleen loses one apartment when her son Jori throws a snowball at a passing car and the enraged driver kicks in the front door, and another when the police come after Jori when he kicks a teacher and runs home. Any kind of trouble that brings the police can lead to eviction, which means women can lose their homes if they call 911 when their man beats them up. Think about that the next time someone asks why women don’t call the cops on violent partners.

As Desmond shows, the main victims of eviction are women. Why? They are paid less than men for doing the same job. They are less able to make deals with their landlord, who is almost always a man, to work off part of their rent with manual labour. The main reason, though, is that women are raising children as single mothers. They not only have all the costs and burdens of childrearing, they need bigger apartments – which, since landlords dislike renting to families with young children, are harder to find and a lot harder to keep. Other sociologists – Kathryn Edin, for example – have found that single mothers often get help under the table from their children’s fathers, but Arleen, Doreen and Doreen’s adult daughter Patrice get mostly trouble from men, who are variously abusive, addicted, vanished or in prison. In one of the book’s many small sad moments, Arleen claims she receives child support in order to seem more stable and respectable to a prospective landlord. In fact, she gets nothing.

Desmond lays out the crucial role housing plays in creating and reinforcing white privilege. In Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US, all black people suffer from housing discrimination and all white people benefit at least a little from the racial dividend – a landlord who will rent to them but not to black people, for instance, or offer them a nicer apartment. Black people have the worst housing in the worst neighbourhoods – the great fear of the trailer-park people, who are all white, is that they will end up on the black side of town. Eviction hits black women hardest of all, and the bleak benches of housing courts, which deal with disputes between landlords and tenants, are full of black women and their children: “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighbourhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

An evicted woman watches as a removal company moves her property out of her rented apartment on to the pavement.
An evicted woman watches as employees of a storage company remove her belongings to place them on the pavement in front of her rented apartment. Photograph: Sally Ryan/Zuma Press/Corbis

What are the social costs of eviction? It puts incredible stress on families. It prevents people from saving the comparatively small sums that would let them stabilise their situation. They are always starting over from scratch, losing their possessions in the chaos of removal, or putting them in storage and losing them when they can’t pay the fees. An eviction on your record makes the next apartment harder to get. Eviction damages children, who are always changing schools, giving up friends and toys and pets – and living with the exhaustion and depression of their parents. We watch Jori go from a sweet, protective older brother to an angry, sullen boy subject to violent outbursts who is falling way behind in school.

Eviction makes it hard to keep up with the many appointments required by the courts and the byzantine welfare system: several characters have their benefits cut because notices are sent to the wrong address. Eviction destroys communities: when people move frequently, they don’t form the social bonds and pride in place that encourage them to care for their block and look out for their neighbours. “With Doreen’s eviction, Thirty-Second Street lost a steadying presence – someone who loved and invested in the neighbourhood, who contributed to making the block safer – but Wright Street didn’t gain one.”

“There is an enormous amount of pain and poverty in this rich land,” Desmond writes in his conclusion. That is easy to say, and many books by journalists and academics have done so. By examining one city through the microscopic lens of housing, however, he shows us how the system that produces that pain and poverty was created and is maintained. I can’t remember when an ethnographic study so deepened my understanding of American life.to all and safeguarding our independence.

“The Central Question in America Today”: In Her Own Words

One of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s many gifts is that she can discuss important issues in plain language. Bill Clinton had the same ability. But her views are more progressive than Clinton’s. She will make a great president.

Below is an interview with Warren conducted by David Dayen of “The American Prospect”. It was published yesterday under the title “Monopolist’s Worst Nightmare: The Elizabeth Warren Interview”:

David Dayen: We’re doing this issue about economic concentration. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, probably since 1912 there hasn’t been this much talk about monopoly in a presidential context, in a presidential race. To what do you attribute that? I mean, why do you think this issue has inspired this interest at this time?

Elizabeth Warren: I believe the central question in America today is who government works for. Yeah, it’s got a lot of different directions, but that’s the fundamental one. Is it just going to work for the rich and the powerful, or is it going to work for everyone else? Antitrust cuts right to the heart of that. We’ve had a government that has kissed up to every giant corporation for decades. It has weakened antitrust enforcement, looked the other way on mergers, passed on deals that everyone knew were anti-competitive and would be bad for the economy and bad for competition but good for the bottom line of the companies that wanted it. And no one so much as fluttered an eyelash over it. And that’s started to change. And I think—So here’s my thinking: it’s because we’re focusing more on what’s wrong in this country. It’s not like somebody woke up and just said “antitrust”—we’re not that nerdy—but it’s about what’s wrong in this country. And as people increasingly see that the problem is not an overreaching government, the problem is a government that won’t get in the fight on the side of the people. Antitrust becomes one of the clearest places to see that.

DD: Now you did a speech at the end of 2017, you talked about this issue, and at the beginning of the speech you said something like, you know, people don’t have to know the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to know that there’s something wrong.

EW: Exactly.

DD: But how do you talk about it on the trail? How do you talk about it to really drive that home so that it doesn’t get bogged down in numbers and economic theory and stuff like that?

EW: It’s important to give examples of how it touches people’s lives. So when I talk about Amazon, for example, I talk about the platform where everybody goes to buy coffee makers and pet cookies, and that the platform works great. But that Amazon does something extra. It’s not just an ordinary marketplace. It’s a marketplace where Amazon, the owner of the platform, sucks up information from every transaction and every near-transaction, the fact that a shopper looked at the item, right, searched for the item, spent a little time hovering, it’s been in your cart.

And I talk about that. And then they use that information to go into competition with the businesses that are trying to sell you coffee makers or pet cookies. And the consequence of that is that the guy who busted his tail, figured out the pet cookie business, got out there and marketed it—Amazon looks over the edge and says, hmm, profit to be made there, let’s do pet cookies, don’t even identify it as an Amazon business, and move the guy who built this business back to page seven in the search. Routine, and now Amazon has sucked up one more business.

DD: The other issue with Amazon is, that pet cookie business, they take a cut out of every transaction he makes anyway.

EW: Exactly, exactly.

DD: And they can raise that price, they can change and say, “Oh, we’re charging more for shipping now, we’re charging more for storage now.”

EW: Every part of it. So, in other words, the way I describe that particular point is, it’s like baseball. You can run the platform—that is, you can be an umpire—or, you can have a team in the game—that is, you can run competition against others who are trying to sell the items. But you don’t get to do both at the same time. And people in the room all say, “Right.” That makes sense to me.

DD: You just break it down and it makes sense.

EW: That’s right.

DD: So we’ve seen, very recently, these hearings in the House on the digital platforms.

EW: Yay.

DD: And, you know, I’m wondering about your thoughts on the role of Congress in this policy. These are policies that Congress wrote, that they have oversight function on. You know, in the ’40s we saw something called the Temporary National Economic Committee, which was a series of investigations into all sorts of sectors over the economy. Do you think, is that something we need now? How can Congress get involved in this?

EW: Okay, I’m glad to see Congress doing this. I think it’s great. I want them to call witnesses, to let people tell their stories, I want them to expose the data. I want to see the books and records of some of these companies. Remember, Congress has got a lot of muscle if it decides to use it. But I want to make two other points. The first is current law gives the Justice Department and the FTC and the banking regulators a lot of power to move now. Even without Congress, a president who put a strong team in place could change antitrust enforcement in this country, without a single change in the laws from Congress.

DD: And it’s interesting you say the banking regulators, because people don’t realize how much power is in, you know, other agencies, not just the FTC and the Justice Department.

EW: Exactly right. I picked banking, but you’re exactly right. But it’s the reminder—There’s a lot we could do right now. But also, and this is what I argue should come out of all this, there are places where Congress should draw a bright line in this. So I have a plan to break up the big platforms. If a platform is doing more than a billion dollars in business, the platform has to be broken off from all of the ancillary businesses. And there’s just—We shouldn’t have to litigate it. Just make it happen. It’s too much concentration of power. And so I’m both ways on this: there’s a lot we can do without—I’m delighted Congress is doing this. There’s a lot we can do, even if Congress doesn’t change any law. But, there is at least one good place Congress could change the law and make this whole system work better.

DD: You mention your plan on the platforms, but you’ve also made the point that if we broke up Google and Amazon and Facebook tomorrow, we’d have a terrible concentration problem in America.

EW: Oh, it’s much broader than just that. Platform is such an obvious one and we’ve—

DD: And everyone interacts with it.

EW: That’s exactly right … the analogy from history where someone—one business—could not only control the marketplace, but also be a dominant player in the marketplace simultaneously. It’s not that you can’t find them in history. It’s that when we found similar economic concentrations in history, we broke them up.

DD: Sure, sure.

EW: Especially when they started buying everything else. And then, of course, doing—as I recall in the railroads—doing a discriminatory pricing map. Charge themselves a different price from [someone else’s] grain outfit.

DD: Absolutely. So, I mean, the sort of elephant in the room on this is the judiciary, which has a very particular theory and view of antitrust and even if you put in enforcers that want to take that in a different direction, you still have to argue that in court. So what do you think can be done there? I mean, obviously a new president would have judicial nominations, but you know, that’s going to take some time, so how—Is there a way to sort of get the judiciary to realize that they need to do their part here?

EW: Use every tool in the toolbox. So part of it is get an aggressive antitrust team. Part of it is presidential leadership. Get out and talk about this issue. And explain to the American people why the laws are working for the big guys and not for them. Encourage the academics to get out and make their case. Remember—

DD: The ones not on the payroll—

EW: … That’s exactly right. Remember, it was the academics that got this started in the wrong direction, arguably.

DD: I would argue that as well.

EW: Yes, exactly, so I think it’s all of the above. And, at the same time, move on the congressional front. I just don’t want this to feel like, gee, if we can’t move Congress, we can’t do anything. No. Bang away without Congress, but also, bang away on Congress to make change. Just move on all the fronts.

DD: Excellent, excellent. And finally, there’s a famous—It was Richard Hofstadter wrote this thing in the ’60s. And he said—And the title of it was “What happened to the antitrust movement?”

EW: Yes.

DD: That there was a movement that created all these laws and then the movement sort of went away and said, “Regulators will take care of it.” It seems like a movement is what is necessary at some level, and how do you inspire that?

EW: Okay, now let’s move back up to the 10,000 feet where we started this, because I think that’s what this is all about. When we started this conversation, I said that I think the question is who government works for. I think much of the antitrust relaxation over time in the ’60s was confidence the government would handle this. Confidence that we had regulators who knew their stuff and who were technically adept and who had shown that they would be on the side of the American public. And when the big corporations started pushing back, started advancing the academic work that said, “No, let the giant corporations do whatever they want. What could possibly go wrong?”—That it’s taken a long time for people to see the implications of that. Look, for 40 years now, the mantra in Washington and in most of the Republican Party and a big chunk of the Democratic Party has all centered around Ronald Reagan’s “What are the nine worst words in the English language? I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Ha ha ha. The idea that it’s government that poses the threat to all of the rest of America and must be held at arm’s length, and missing the fact that it’s government that balances out the power of these giant corporations. And without an effective government to enforce antitrust laws—and other laws—we’re all in trouble.

DD: Well, it’s the idea that if there’s—If government takes away the regulation, the regulation doesn’t go away, it’s just in the hands of the giant corporations.

EW: It’s just in the hands of the giant corporations.

DD: So they get to do regulation from the boardroom.

EW: And that’s how we keep hearing lately about self-regulation. Aircraft manufacturers that self-regulated; how did that work out? You know, it’s—But it’s over and over. It’s wait, what? They’re doing what? The oil companies that were doing the drilling offshore were self-regulating? You know, they filed some reports that nobody read. That’s not a government that’s working for the public. So when you say about, is it going to take a movement? The answer’s yes. That is the movement we’re starting to build.

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan for Economic Patriotism

Robert Kuttner discusses “Warren’s Astonishing Plan for Economic Patriotism” at The American Prospect:

I have been a fan of Elizabeth Warren for a long time. Her combination of deep knowledge of how American capitalism works, her capacity to narrate the lived experience of American working families and tie it to radical reforms, and her sheer integrity are unsurpassed.

Her rollout of one brilliant policy proposal after another and her ability to connect those to a political understanding of the American situation has been just stunning. But Warren’s latest plan is in a class by itself, even for Warren. She calls it an Agenda for Economic Patriotism.

Warren’s proposal does nothing less than turn inside out the globalist assumptions pursued by the past several administrations, Democrat and Republican alike. Where they have pursued more globalization of commerce as an end in itself (and as a profit center for U.S.-based multinational corporations and banks), Warren’s goal is to bring production and good jobs home.

Even better, she knits it all together with a coherent plan, beginning with a new Department of Economic Development “with the sole responsibility to create and defend quality, sustainable American jobs.”

The new Department will replace the Commerce Department, subsume other agencies like the Small Business Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office, and include research and development programs, worker training programs, and export and trade authorities like the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The new Department will have a single goal: creating and defending good American jobs.

Globalization didn’t just happen, Warren points out.

America chose to pursue a trade policy that prioritized the interests of capital over the interests of American workers. Germany, for example, chose a different path and participated in international trade while at the same time robustly—and successfully—supporting its domestic industries and its workers.

Warren proposes that every tool of American national policy be directed towards the goals of reclaiming domestic industry and producing good jobs for American workers.

This, in her phrase, is the essence of economic patriotism and is the opposite of what most American-based banks and corporations do.

These “American” companies show only one real loyalty: to the short-term interests of their shareholders, a third of whom are foreign investors. If they can close up an American factory and ship jobs overseas to save a nickel, that’s exactly what they will do—abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities along the way.

Specifically, she calls for leveraging government-subsidized R & D to promote domestic good jobs. If the research and development that goes into new products is funded by American taxpayers, those products will be built by American workers. Warren also wants management of the value of the dollar to take into account the impact on domestic production.

In her Green Manufacturing Plan, which Warren is also releasing today, she further proposes the federal government allot $150 billion every year for the next decade to purchase renewable, green, American-made energy products, which in itself would amount to a 30 percent increase in the government’s annual procurement.

In addition, she values these new tools of domestic economic development for regional development potential as well, so that good jobs can be spread to the nation’s regions that have been left behind by the bi-coastal shift of capital. And she wants government procurement to be used explicitly for domestic production and job creation. Warren also proposes a dramatic expansion of worker training to rendezvous with the anticipated new jobs.

If China can commit its national resources to promotion of domestic industry, through plans such as Made-in-China 2025, and even democratic Germany can commit a great deal more economic planning than we do, says Warren, it’s time for America to start planning a future of cutting edge industries and good jobs. Every four years, the Department of Economic Development would produce a National Jobs Strategy, and all trade-related policies would fall under the new department.

Consider what Warren has done with this proposal. For starters, she has blown away the assumptions of several decades of U.S. trade policy, in which the invisible hand is supposed to allocate production based on principles of laissez-faire. But as painful experience has demonstrated, free-market economics doesn’t work any better globally that it does nationally.

While other progressive critics have offered telling indictments of America’s trade policy, Warren is the first to nest that critique in an affirmative strategy for reclaiming good jobs and fostering cutting edge industries. By doing so, she underscores her distance from corporate Democrats and allies herself with working people.

… While [the president’s] version of economic nationalism is all swagger, symbol, and shotgun retaliation. Warren’s would actually deliver tangible benefits for the voters who turned [to him] in desperation….

Warren has also reclaimed the virtue of patriotism for the progressive left, and connected it to something urgent and with real meaning, as opposed to the right’s use of patriotism for symbols, military adventures, and worse. The Prospect recently addressed this need in E.J. Dionne’s essay on the important work of John Judis.

As this remarkable plan is debated, the usual suspects in the political center not to mention the orthodox economists are going to go nuts. Just wait for the editorials and columns. Warren will be damned as a protectionist and worse…. But the supposed gains of “free trade” are among the most overrated free-market myths.

America’s finest industrial hours came during World War II, when national planning was a necessity and trade was shut down. The postwar boom was an era when trade came to just about five percent of GDP, and prosperity was broadly spread. Trade is fine as the tail on the economic dog, but it becomes perverse when trade is the tail that wags the dog (even more so when the master is corporate).

With this plan, Warren has begun an overdue debate that she deserves to win, both intellectually and politically.  And she has demonstrated once again her potential as a powerful force against [the president].

And against others in the Democratic field. Joe Biden may be the candidate working class voters would rather have a beer with, but what will he have to say about this proposal? Let his constituents eat free trade? Having supported NAFTA, extending permanent “normal” trade relations to China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Biden’s pro-worker bona fides leave a good deal to be desired.

For several months, I’ve been arguing with the naysayers who tell the usual story of Warren being too much the “shrill schoolmarm” who will never reach working class voters, or being politically vulnerable as “Pocahontas.” I’ve watched Warren’s stunning success talking candidly about race, and observed skeptics crediting her political, rhetorical, and policy acumen, as she keeps slowly moving up in the polls, benefiting from those lowered expectations.

This latest proposal demonstrates once again what makes Warren a once-in-a-lifetime progressive leader.