Reason Roundup

Elizabeth Warren's 'Rules' for Markets Won't 'Make Capitalism Great Again' But May Help Her 2020 Chances: Reason Roundup

Plus: An epidemic of epidemics and "big beer pivots to big weed."


Cheryl Gerber/ZUMA Press/Newscom

On Thursday, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill to hold capitalism "accountable" by requiring any corporation with revenues (not profits) exceeding $1 billion to obtain a federal "charter" in order to operate. "The justification for all this is the common, economically sketchy claim of income inequality; that the rich are getting richer and that wages are stagnating," Scott Shackford noted here yesterday.

While the actual legislation hasn't been unveiled yet, Warren's proposal is already generating a good deal of discussion. Obviously, many folks are thrilled. "Instead of advocating for expensive new social programs like free college or health care," writes Matthew Yglesias at Vox, "she's introducing a bill Wednesday, the Accountable Capitalism Act, that would redistribute trillions of dollars from rich executives and shareholders to the middle class—without costing a dime."

"Elizabeth Warren wants to make capitalism great again," trumpeted

Of course, many in media and politics have been preoccupried with What It All Means, and the consensus is that Warren will likely run for president in 2020. Kevin Williamson concurs, but interprets the move much more uncharitably. "Senator Warren is many things: a crass opportunist, intellectually bankrupt, personally vapid, a peddler of witless self-help books, etc. But she is not stupid," writes Williamson. He continues

She knows that this is a go-nowhere proposition, that she will be spared by the Republican legislative majority from the ignominy that would ensue from the wholehearted pursuit of this daft program. It is in reality only a means of staking out for purely strategic reasons the most radical corner for her 2020 run at the Democratic presidential nomination. The Democratic party in 2018, like the Republican primary electorate in 2016, is out for blood and desirous of confrontation. So Senator Warren is running this red flag up the flagpole to see who salutes.

"Naturally, I share Kevin's horror," writes his National Review colleague Charles C.W. Cooke. "But I must confess to being a little amused by how pusillanimous a radical Senator Warren seems to be. Out of everyone in Congress, she is perhaps the most consistent practitioner of the 'I believe in X, but I really don't believe in X' formulation that stains so much of our politics these days."

On CNBC yesterday, Warren said

I believe in markets. I believe in all of the wealth that markets produce. But markets have to have rules. And together, we decide those rules. You know, like you've got to have a cop on the beat.

Markets have to have rules, Cooke writes,

… is the sort of characterization you'd expect to hear from a center-right figure arguing in defense of the existence of the FDA, not from a self-professed radical advocating a nakedly corporatist power-grab of the sort that would have made Alfredo Rocco blush. There's not much to say for Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez and her band of politically illiterate naifs, but at least they have had the common courtesy to tattoo their Jacobinism onto their foreheads. Perhaps in the belief that she can have it both ways, Elizabeth Warren has not. We are all worse off for her duplicity.

At Economics 21, James R. Copland, director of legal policy for the Manhattan Institute, gets more into the meat of Warren's proposal (and the historical revisionism it requires). "The the misnomered Accountable Capitalism Act," writes Copland, "would yank down three principal pillars of U.S. law governing corporations: corporate federalism (leaving substantive corporate law to the states), shareholder primacy (aligning board fiduciary duties with shareholders' interests), and director independence (eliminating company boards' conflicts of interest). Senator Warren argues that her legislation would address the rise of inequality in the United States—a phenomenon that is real enough-but her preferred solution would hurt rather than help her intended beneficiaries in the American workforce."


An epidemic of epidemics. Pretty much any social ill or pychological issue that captures national attention will wind up described these days as an epidemic. "Countless things are now described as epidemics: loneliness, selfies, nostalgia, partisanship, fake news," writes Zachary Siegel in The New York Times. Suicides, overdoses, excessive drinking, obesity, wellness, drugs, guns, sugary beverages, and SoulCycle have also earned the moniker.

"It's useful to study these problems," suggests Siegel, but "we sometimes forget 'epidemic' is only a metaphor for something much more resistant to treatment."

In epidemiology, scientists can look at tons of data and sketch patterns undetectable at the individual or small group level. "What's striking, lately," writes Siegel, "is the way that logic has spread further beyond the realms of the medical, into spaces once considered too messy and human for science to fully apply—into things like politics and media and popular culture. … The tools of epidemiology are ever more powerful and precise, but they may not be the ones that fix the problem of being human."


Corona pivots to cannabis.