The field of Democratic candidates for 2020’s American election is mushrooming and it’s destined to expand further. The infusion of left-wing socialism within the party has filled it with new life and not a little frustration. Already divisions are making themselves apparent – an emerging reality that could either help or hinder the party as it seeks the steer the country away from right-leaning trends. As Republicans have signed over their credibility to one leader who most don’t even trust, Democrats are struggling to get their legitimacy back without a real leader at the moment, other than Nancy Pelosi’s role in Congress.
I confess to having been intrigued by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s influence on American politics for years, largely motivated, and frequently inspired, by her two books A Fighting Chance (2014)and This Fight is Our Fight (2017). Given the party’s beleaguered ongoing love affair with the neo-liberal status quo, many have looked to Warren to present a formidable challenge to its cozy relationship with Wall Street.
This isn’t a post about the feisty senator and holder of the seat that Ted Kennedy once dominated. Rather, it’s about how capitalism itself is increasingly being viewed within the Democratic Party. The relationship is no longer symbiotic and it grows increasingly feisty the closer Democrats get to the 2020 election. In all of this, Warren has become symbol – not for removing capitalism but reforming it to harmonize with the modern version of civil society. It’s a profile directly opposed to the socialist trend in the party, but something that might gain traction in the next two years.
Capitalist leaders need to hearken to what she is saying instead of denouncing her in such demonic fashion as they are at present. Why? Not because of her pointed reasoning but for the sentiment flowing through the broader society that feels that it’s time for capitalism to reconsider its effect on democracy. Will Warren’s challenge succeed? The odds are long, but she is formidable.
Admittedly, Warren has made that somewhat more difficult following her proposal of two legislative pieces that speak to serious reform: the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. The former would permit workers to occupy 40% of board seats of the largest corporations as a countermeasure to corporate boards gutting workforces in favour of massive profits. The latter would prohibit federal officers and politicians, including former presidents, from lobbying Congress for life.
Of course, these two proposals enrage corporate barons and incense comfortable political figures made secure through outrageous elite donations. But instead of reforming the financial systems to reflect the new mood of the electorate, they choose to excoriate the person in Congress demanding that the physician heal himself. It’s a sign of how effective Warren has become, not only as a legislator, but a reformed voice for capittalism instead of against it.
Nevertheless, she’s a conscientious supporter and doesn’t suffer fools lightly – especially greedy ones. Describing herself as a “capitalist to the bone,” Warren most often sees capitalism for what it can be, and perhaps once was. But she’s a realist and understands that change is only possible through legislation: “I believe in markets and the benefits they can produce when they work. Markets with rules can produce enormous value.” But then she adds:
“This is a political issue. It’s not a markets issue. There were years of not perfect but fairly well-enforced rules that were pretty firmly hit and held. Then you hit the ’80s and the lobbying by the wealthy and the well-connected steps up and the rules start shifting. The rules tilt just a little more toward the rich and the powerful. Just a little more, just a little more. Enforcement gets weaker and weaker. Remember the whole description that started in the ’80s about deregulation and the beauties that deregulation would bring America? I understand no one wants to have to abide by dumb regulations. I get that, but deregulation became a code word for “fire the cops.” Not the cops on Main Street, the cops on Wall Street.”
Warren is smart enough to remember history. American companies once shared their wealth with those workers who helped to produce it. And they also made room for investors and shareholders. But today, half of Americans don’t own any stock or even a retirement pension plan. That means much of the wealth isn’t being spread or shared but narrowed and hoarded. When the economy goes up and efficiencies and productivity climb along with it, workers nevertheless fall farther behind as the years pass. Warren is quick to note that 84% of the wealth in the stock market only goes to 10% of the population. And the inequities in it all are only getting worse.
One doesn’t have to agree with all her points, but it must be acknowledged that Warren is picking up on the deep disillusionment among citizens and is seeking to rectify those concerns from within capitalism itself through legislation that would limit monopolies and prove more effective at spreading the wealth.
Elizabeth Warren’s entrance into the presidential race will change dynamics in ways yet unforeseen and unless capitalist decision-makers take up her challenge, it will be inevitable that forces from the left, empowered and angered by the financial system’s sheer exclusiveness and injustice, will eventually seek to do away with it altogether.