Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has one-upped socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: She proposes to nationalize every major business in the United States of America. If successful, it would constitute the largest seizure of private property in human history.
Warren’s proposal is dishonestly called the “Accountable Capitalism Act.” Accountable to whom? you might ask. That’s a reasonable question. The answer is — as it always is — accountable to politicians, who desire to put the assets and productivity of private businesses under political discipline for their own selfish ends. It is remarkable that people who are most keenly attuned to the self-interest of CEOs and shareholders and the ways in which that self-interest influences their decisions apparently believe that members of the House, senators, presidents, regulators, Cabinet secretaries, and agency chiefs somehow are liberated from self-interest when they take office through some kind of miracle of transcendence.
Under Senator Warren’s proposal, no business with more than $1 billion in revenue would be permitted to legally operate without permission from the federal government. The federal government would then dictate to these businesses the composition of their boards, the details of internal corporate governance, compensation practices, personnel policies, and much more. Naturally, their political activities would be restricted, too. Senator Warren’s proposal entails the wholesale expropriation of private enterprise in the United States, and nothing less. It is unconstitutional, unethical, immoral, irresponsible, and — not to put too fine a point on it — utterly bonkers.
It is also cynical. 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. 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.
To propose such a thing for sincere reasons would be ghastly stupidity. To propose this program for narrowly self-serving political reasons is the sort of thing that would end a political career in a sane and self-respecting state, which Massachusetts plainly is not and has not been for some time.
When the owners of Apple wish to hold on to their own after-tax earnings, they are denounced as greedy. When Elizabeth Warren wants to seize those earnings for her own use, what is that? It is covetousness, which is what you get when you have greed compounded with envy.
To those on the left who look at Senator Warren’s proposal and think that giving the government a stronger whip hand over American businesses is just the ticket, I would like to present four questions: Who is the president of these United States? Who is the majority leader in the Senate? Who is the speaker of the House? How would you evaluate the composition of the Supreme Court, either as it stands or after President Donald Trump has the opportunity to nominate another justice or two? The power you give the federal government will be there during Republican administrations, too. Any future populist demagogue who finds his way into the White House will have access to the same power. No one should be trusted with that kind of power.
And nobody who seeks that kind of power should be trusted with any power at all.
It is worth keeping in mind that the fabulous goose was slaughtered not in spite of the golden eggs but because of them. Politicians are covetous. When the owners of Apple wish to hold on to their own after-tax earnings, they are denounced as greedy. (Apple’s shareholders are corporately the largest taxpayer in the world.) When Elizabeth Warren wants to seize those earnings for her own use, what is that? It is covetousness, which is what you get when you have greed compounded with envy. Senator Warren, a former Sunday-school teacher, apparently has a keen appreciation for the vices that lurk in the human heart, and she intends to leverage them to her benefit.
Another thing about these kinds of proposals: They are, at heart, acts of cowardice. There are politicians who wish to provide benefits to certain constituents and who would like those benefits to be paid for by other parties who are politically disfavored. There is an easy way to do that: Tax x to subsidize y. The problem with doing that is embarrassment. Politicians such as Senator Warren lack the courage to go to the American electorate and say: “We wish to provide these benefits, and they will cost an extra $3 trillion a year, which we will pay for by doubling taxes.” Why spend the money to subsidize, say, health insurance, when you can just pass rules that make businesses do the subsidizing for you? It’s a way to spend money without putting the expenditures on a budget line. It treats the productive capacity of the United States as a herd of dairy cows to be milked by Senator Warren et al. at their convenience. And, of course, Senator Warren and her colleagues get to decide how the milk gets distributed, too.
One wonders why American businesses put up with it.
They do not have to. Not really.
It is a fairly easy thing for an established American business to move its corporate domicile to some other country, as with all those corporate inversions in the pharmaceutical industry that gave the Obama administration the willies a few years ago. It is also a fairly easy thing for a new business being founded by Americans to incorporate in some other country from the beginning. There is no insurmountable reason for, say, Microsoft or Altria (formerly Philip Morris) to be domiciled in the United States. Silicon Valley’s competitive edge comes from people, and people are mobile.
Nearly half of the total sales of the S&P 500 businesses come from overseas customers. Many big U.S. manufacturers such as Caterpillar get more than half of their sales from abroad. Exxon, the target of a political jihad being conducted by Senator Warren’s party, gets more than half of its revenue from overseas sales. You can serve the growing Asian markets as easily from Singapore as from California or Virginia. Watching American cities scurry around to prostrate themselves before Jeff Bezos (pbuh) in the hopes of attracting the new Amazon campus has been amusing. Imagine Apple or Google doing that in a global search for a new home. Fanciful? Yes.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hugo Chávez, Huey Long: The rogues’ gallery of those who sought to fortify their political power by bullying businesses is long, and it is sickening.
Businesses historically have chosen to locate in the United States for a number of reasons: It was long the world’s largest market, and businesses had faith in American law and the American dollar. It’s still a big market, and the dollar is still the world’s favorite currency. But if American law or American lawmakers are going to treat profit-seeking enterprises as an Enemy of the People — Zurich is pretty nice. Lots of places are. There are a lot of big American businesses with targets painted on their backs, and those that do not already have a Plan B are doing their shareholders a disservice.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hugo Chávez, Huey Long: The rogues’ gallery of those who sought to fortify their political power by bullying businesses is long, and it is sickening. Senator Warren now nominates herself to that list, at least in her aspiration. It is not an honorable aspiration.
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