Friday, December 12, 2014

Elizabeth Warren on Jobs: A Worthwhile Challenge to Hillary

So far, Hillary Clinton has appeared to be as much of a presidential-candidate juggernaut as anyone has at this still early point.  This year, the odds on her being elected have ranged from almost even to 2-to-1 against, which, by comparison, is several times more likely than any other candidate.  You can now get 9-to-5 on her winning – second most likely is Mitt Romney with 12 to 1, followed by Jeb Bush at 15 to 1.  Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are at 20 to 1, followed by the second most likely Democrat, Elizabeth Warren, currently 22 to 1.

Who is this Elizabeth Warren?  She is the 65-year-old Massachusetts junior senator, a former Harvard law professor who dealt most often with bankruptcy law and consumer finance issues.  She won the first election Scott Brown, the Republican who replaced Ted Kennedy, had to face while in that office, and almost ever since has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, with slow but steadily increasing attention paid to her prospects and desirability.  As recently as April she publicly denied wanting to run, but has been involved with so much Democratic fundraising that she seems to have established a foundation, and of course may change her mind. 

Warren is best known politically, and perhaps now professionally, for opposing Wall Street and big business financial domination.  That is why The Washington Post said she would be “instantly relevant” in the 2016 campaign, as most Democrats have a negative view of both.  She is regarded as being to the left of Hillary Clinton, which could help her within her party, if not in the general election.

So how does Warren seem on jobs?  She has sponsored only one bill directly related, the Equal Employment for All Act of 2013, which would bar employers from using workers’ and candidates’ credit reports against them.  She is in favor of minimum wage increases, citing great productivity gains which have not come through in pay.  Her books, The Two-Income Trap and A Fighting Chance, both point out a major effect of the jobs crisis, that workers average lower incomes and less overall prosperity than they did in what I have called the Winning by Default Years ending in 1973.  Peripherally, she is staunchly in favor of higher top-end tax brackets, saying that those with unusually high incomes needed roads, police, and worker education that were collectively provided.  Otherwise, she has said little about American employment, and now has nothing – literally – on her website under “Issues.” 

There would be several good things about a declared Elizabeth Warren candidacy.  First, Clinton needs strong competition, which Warren could provide - without it, we could see the election of the most noncommittal Democratic or Republican nominee in decades.  Second, despite her being pegged as in the leftmost half of her party, she could well materialize into a bipartisan leader, as she consistently voted Republican before 1995 and has said, as recently as 2011, that neither party should be allowed to dominate.  Third, she is aware of what the permanent jobs crisis has caused, even if she does not seem to credit that as the cause.  Fourth, and most importantly, she could well prove independent enough to pursue solutions beyond a mainstream Democratic platform. 

For these reasons, and whether we agree with her views so far, we should encourage Elizabeth Warren to run.  Since we have got almost nowhere on the jobs crisis during Obama’s presidency, an election of another center-to-right Democrat beholden to many within the party could easily be the worst reasonably likely 2016 outcome.  I can imagine Warren taking guaranteed income, for example, more seriously than Clinton would. 

Another thing about Warren is worthy of our attention.  If she were voted in and did not succeed, she would be easier to get rid of in 2020, which we may well want to do if and when another recession lays our employment situation bare once more.  Win or lose, whether she is right or wrong, we want Elizabeth Warren – and others with different views than what we have seen – in the race and running hard. 


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