The Washington Post
Elizabeth Warren may or may not be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020, but the Massachusetts senator’s recent strong performance has America’s plutocrats in a tizzy. Her policy proposals have them angry and afraid.
But what really bothers them is her insistence that they are the prime source of America’s ills, and those ills can be cured by relieving them of their ability to shape our economic and political system for their benefit. Warren has hurt their feelings, and they’re lashing out.
Hedge fund managers warn that if Warren is elected, the stock market will tank. Wall Street Democrat Steven Rattner insists that “a Warren presidency is a terrifying prospect,” lamenting Warren’s targeting of “Many of America’s global champions, like banks and tech giants,” not to mention the effects her policies would have on “Private equity, which plays a useful role in driving business efficiency.” Horrors!
Meanwhile, billionaire investor Leon Cooperman told Politico, “I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more. But this is the f--ing American dream she is sh--ing on.”
And one of Cooperman’s former employees wrote an outraged piece for CNBC that reads almost like a parody, in which he insists that Cooperman not only gives money to charity but also has even displayed concern for the well-being of people who work for him. A saint, I tell you.
As Anand Giridharadas notes, when plutocrats push back on proposals to increase their taxes, they never say what really motivates them, which is simply that they don’t want to pay higher taxes. Instead, the argument is always about how, if we tax them more, then we will only be depriving ourselves of the fruits of their beneficence.
What of their job creation, their generous charitable giving, their noble efforts to make this a better world for all of us? Tax them more to pay for things such as universal health coverage, and all that would be threatened. As befits their altruistic spirit, they oppose Warren (and others such as Bernie Sanders who propose similar things) not for themselves, but for us.
But it’s clear in the venomous reactions Warren produces from the plutocrat class that they want not only to be able to be taxed and regulated as lightly as possible, they want to be told they deserve every bit of wealth and power they have.
Warren does not offer that reassurance; quite the opposite. She says that the system has been shaped by the wealthy to advance their own interests, and if you’re one of them, you have an obligation to contribute more. And she’s happy to mock or insult the billionaire class along the way.
That is what differentiates her from many other Democrats. While Warren proposes some deeper changes to corporate structures than many other candidates do, when it comes to taxing the wealthy her positions are only a slightly more elevated version of what most Democrats stand for and have for some time. Every Democratic presidential candidate for years has suggested that the wealthy can afford to pay more, and the last two Democratic presidents both raised taxes on the rich. They do this because they think it’s right, and because the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy is hugely popular.
But what you often hear from candidates such as Joe Biden is a much friendlier, gentler approach to the rich. Like many centrist Democrats, Biden may want to bump up the top tax rate a bit, but he’ll do it while assuring the wealthy that they’ll be fine. This year he told a group of well-heeled donors that “we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money,” adding that “No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.”
The latter part would be true in some ways even under Warren’s plan. If you have a billion dollars in assets, a 2 percent wealth tax would leave you with $980 million in assets (actually you’d have a bit more because of how it would be calculated). It’s not like you’d say, “Sorry dear, we can’t eat out this month. And let’s start buying the generic toilet paper.”
From the perspective of Wall Street plutocrats, the real problem is not practical but spiritual. Warren not only wants to tax and regulate them more; she’s happy to vilify them, and they feel wounded. They expect to not only be able to hoard most of the country’s wealth, but to have the rest of us praise them for their brilliance, laud them for their industriousness, proclaim the splendor of their generous spirits and insist that they truly are the best of us.
If the plutocrats could think straight, they’d look back over history and understand that they’ll be fine almost no matter what. If a Democrat is elected, they may have to pay some more in taxes, but it’s not going to alter their lifestyles. Wall Street may get regulated more, but just as they’ve lived with the Dodd-Frank law that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis, they’ll learn to live with whatever comes next.
And if they’re feeling fearful about the future, they can turn on Fox and know that there are at least some people who will love them unconditionally. It works for the president.