A couple of days ago, in a National Newswatch piece, I broached a sincere question: Can we actually afford the kind of capitalism we have at present? There were lots of interesting responses, usually focusing on America as the epi-centre of economic dysfunction.
So, it was surprising to read Franklin Foer’s column in the Atlantic yesterday talking about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s take on modern capitalism. We’ve covered the feisty American senator (Ted Kennedy’s replacement) in previous posts, but with her courageous willingness to talk about the global financial order and its devastating affects worldwide, Warren is merely voicing what millions are thinking.
She begins by acknowledging that her Democratic party’s recent flirtation with socialism is infusing a new generation of voters into the process, and she’s thankful for it. Yet Warren nevertheless feels the time is right for reforming capitalism as opposed to heading off in an entirely new direction. She wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the subject, challenging capitalist leaders to either get with reform or be prepared for a citizen onslaught, the likes of which it hasn’t faced since the Depression.
Warren doesn’t just opine about such things, as Trump has done. As a popular senator in the midst of an unpopular Senate, she has introduced two pieces of legislation that will certainly result in an embroiled debate between financial elites and civil society – the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act.
The first is interesting, in that it would require the larger corporations to make 40 percent of their board postings available to their workers. Warren highlights a number of reasons for the proposal but its purpose is aimed at injecting some sober second thought on the ease with which corporations opt for choices that enrich the executives while undermining the wages and benefits of their workers. She reminds anyone listening that Germany has a similar model, called “codetermination.”
The second proposal – Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act – could be even more problematic. As Katrina Huevel of the Washington Post put it this week: “Washington corruption didn’t begin two years ago with Donald Trump. Pervasive, bipartisan and blatant corruption is business as usual. Americans know that the rules are rigged for the rich and the powerful. Trump campaigned on the pretense that his money made him independent, but that was just another lie.”
As Warren put it herself when presenting the legislation:
“Our government systematically favours the rich over the poor, the donor class over the working class, the well-connected over the disconnected. This is deliberate and we need to call it for what it is – corruption, plain and simple.”
One can just imagine the conversations between politicians of both parties and lobbyists taking place across Washington over Warren’s proposal and her obvious willingness to see it through. The problem is that the Senator’s simple but powerful language expresses how the majority of Americans feel. It was something Donald Trump said he would drain but who so far appears to have surrounded himself with just the kind of financial and political elite he said he would boot from D.C.
Warren’s proposal, or what she calls “padlocking the revolving door,” bans top-elected or appointed federal officials from becoming lobbyists after they leave. And here’s the kicker – “for life.” It bans guilty corporate executives from taking a federal job for six years. There’s much more, but Elizabeth Warren’s initiative, as the Washington Post stated it, would literally “end corporate lobbying as we presently know it.” Such measures would drain the swamp literally, instead of merely remaining a useful figurative tool for the current president.
Put her two legislative proposals together and you get a sincere effort to get to the heart of lobbying (politics) and require corporations to take all stakeholders into account (capitalism). Both proposals stand at the vanguard of the new progressive movement moving in from outside Washington and demanding fundamental change.
Hasn’t America been down this road before? Indeed, it has, including some serious efforts by the late-John McCain on campaign finance reform. What’s different this time isn’t Washington culture but popular sentiment. Slowly, inevitably, perhaps irrevocably, democracy is beginning to wage war with capitalism and it is these democratic forces that make change finally possibly.