Magazine February 10, 2020, Issue

Elizabeth Warren’s Disastrous Agenda

Elizabeth Warren speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, January 19, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream, by David L. Bahnsen (Post Hill Press, 160 pp., $25)

Elizabeth Warren has been giving off troubling signs for years. Long before the current presidential campaign, she greatly exaggerated her Native American heritage to paint herself as an underrepresented minority in the academy; was pivotal in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an unaccountable federal agency that may soon be ruled unconstitutional; and helped to push aggressive regulatory measures that were purportedly aimed at the giants of finance but served largely to place small banks and credit unions at a competitive disadvantage. Over the past year, as she’s come closer to the presidency, she’s rolled out one zillion-dollar “plan for that” after another: single-payer health care, universal child care, free college.

If you’ve been reading National Review for any length of time, and especially if you caught our special issue on Warren last year, you’re familiar with the broad strokes. But nonetheless it’s shocking to see it all collected and explained in detail in one place. And that’s what National Review Institute board member David Bahnsen achieves in Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream. The book is a stark warning to voters: This lady is bad news.

Bahnsen’s goal here is not to attack Warren personally. Indeed, the humiliating “Fauxcahontas” controversy receives only a glancing mention. Instead, he criticizes the candidate on the policy level, hammering home how her ideas are a poor fit for the circumstances the U.S. finds itself in. They would damage the economy and the middle class and fail to solve the problems she says she wants to address.

Let’s go through some of the bigger-ticket plans-for-that and what Bahnsen has to say about them.

Warren is of the belief that the wealthy have far too much money and influence and fail to pay what they should to support government programs for everyone else. Under the sway of two far-left Berkeley economists (whose own book I reviewed here last year; see “How to Soak the Rich,” December 9), she proposes a “wealth tax.” Bahnsen rips this to shreds. There are serious moral problems with confiscating wealth simply because its owners supposedly have too much of it, especially since a lot of this wealth was already taxed when earned as income or investment returns. It would prove to be an administrative nightmare as the wealthy rearranged their assets to make it harder to value and tax them, and relatedly the tax would bring in far less money than promised.

Most other countries that have tried this idea have given up on it. Warren’s fantasy-prone policy platform, by contrast, can’t afford to lose a revenue-raiser, because it also contains trillions of dollars’ worth of spending hikes. Among these, none has gotten more attention than “Medicare for All.”

On this topic, Bahnsen unfortunately falls victim to a problem common in books released in the middle of ongoing campaigns: The situation developed in important ways between his final draft and the book’s release date. He criticizes Warren several times for not explaining how she’d pay for it, at one point acknowledging that she might do so before the book reaches readers. Indeed, she released a detailed (if far-fetched) explanation at the end of October.

Nonetheless, the basics of the critique here are sound. Independent experts tend to put the Medicare for All price tag far higher than Warren’s campaign is willing to. There really is no way to do this without big tax hikes on the middle class, and there’s little reason to believe the government can competently pull off the project of kicking everyone off their private insurance and replacing it with a politically viable public plan. Americans are generally happy with their private insurance, and numerous special interests — not just the insurers themselves, whose very existence is threatened, but also providers who would see their payments cut dramatically — are prepared for battle. Warren herself tacitly admitted the impossibility of her goals in November, when she released a plan for “transitioning” to Medicare for All that most observers interpreted as her real health-care plan, a vision of what she could accomplish when Congress inevitably refuses to go along with her broader ambitions. In that plan, she promises to “fight” for legislation fully implementing Medicare for All . . . by the third year of her presidency.

But of course a takeover of the health-care industry is not the end of Warren’s big-budget plans. She’d also like to plunk down trillions to forgive student debt and make public colleges free. The plan would not be tailored to help former students who were misled about their career opportunities or taken advantage of; to the contrary, it would disproportionately benefit higher earners, the folks who made a good investment and are reaping the rewards. (The people who default on their student loans tend to be those who didn’t borrow very much to begin with and didn’t even earn a degree.) As Bahnsen explains through a careful discussion of research by mostly left-leaning think tanks, the idea is basically the opposite of progressive, despite putting some limits in place for the wealthy.

What about the environmental challenges we face? Bahnsen doesn’t minimize them — there’s no attempt to deny the reality of global warming here — but he points out how fundamentally unserious is Warren’s entire approach, including both what she endorses and what she doesn’t. She was eager to sign on to the “Green New Deal,” a pie-in-the-sky proposal spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that seeks to, among much else, eliminate net carbon emissions in ten years. But Warren unrelentingly opposes some of the smaller, more sensible developments that have actually succeeded in bringing down emissions. Fracking has brought the U.S. a wealth of natural gas that reduces our reliance on foreign oil and generates electricity far more cleanly than coal does; Warren has promised to ban it by executive action. Nuclear plants are among the cleanest power sources known to man; she opposes those too, citing real but exaggerated and manageable risks such as the spent fuel rods that need to be disposed of.

Fracking and nuclear power don’t need to be our ultimate energy goals. Someday, we’ll have even better technologies capable of fully meeting our needs. We should certainly be investing in the technologies that look most promising. But, simply put, if you oppose these sources in the here and now, you are not very serious about reducing carbon emissions.

There’s a lot more to Elizabeth Warren’s worldview and policy prescriptions, and a lot more to this book. Bahnsen also covers her approach to Big Tech, her addiction to class warfare, and even the positive contributions she made during her more moderate days. But that will do for a preview.

Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream is a serious, thorough, policy-driven critique of a major contender for the Democratic nomination. Conservatives will read it and fear what’s in store for them if she becomes president. Hopefully liberals will read it too, and take its warning to heart.

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