Whether you like Elizabeth Warren’s politics or not, this Will Wilkinson piece for the Niskanen Center is worth your time. The piece is mainly about Senator Warren’s argument that America’s political and economic systems are rigged toward the powerful. I tend to agree with Warren (and Wilkinson’s) core concerns.
But focusing too exclusively on the concentrated power of corporations and billionaires isn’t just a strategic error that invites overwhelming resistance from already-dominating political forces that need to be pacified. It also leads to the neglect of other forms of concentrated power that keep our system rigged. This is both an intellectual and strategic mistake. An incomplete and partial diagnosis of the problem narrows the appeal of a structural reform agenda, which makes it harder to recruit the popular political energy it will need to succeed.
For example, public sector unions organize against voters to block reform and starve other programs, and much poorer citizens, of public funds by dominating budget processes. Elected Democrats who like their jobs tend not to complain about teachers unions obstructing badly needed experimentation and reform in our primary education system, just as Republicans tend not to complain about the NRA, but it’s a form of anti-democratic “capture” all the same. And there are many other examples of capture and rule-rigging at work on multiple levels of our political economy. These merit attention, too.
Emphasizing that teachers, lawyers, doctors, academics, and other “knowledge work” professionals also insulate themselves from competition and extract resources from less well-positioned citizens is not a standard left message. It is a radical message, but when you whittle away the parts that cut against the interests of the urban liberal professional class, it comes off too much like a strident version of standard-issue Democratic progressivism.
To me, this is where Warren’s argument has run aground. Warren is by no means alone in this, but the easy move among Democrats today is to make an argument about concentrated power and the harm it does to average citizens, but then stop short of applying the same critical lens to traditional Democratic issue areas like education. Democrats have an authenticity problem when they ignore the issue altogether or merely offer more of the same.
–Guest post by Chad Aldeman