Background: The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank, founded as the Charles Koch Foundation.
It supports lowering or abolishing most taxes, opposition to the Federal Reserve system, the privatization of numerous government agencies and programs including Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, and the United States Postal Service, along with adhering to a non-interventionist foreign policy.
Reason is an American libertarian monthly magazine published by the Reason Foundation. Peter Suderman works for Reason.
Libertarianism tends toward anarchy; seemingly any level of government ownership or control, no matter how small, is considered too large by libertarians.
The following article perfectly illustrates the libertarian worldview:
Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Don’t Add Up
The Warren worldview of ill-founded economic pessimism is both bloodless and moralizing.
PETER SUDERMAN | FROM THE OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE OF REASON
At the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president—and of her entire career as a politician and public intellectual, are two simple ideas.
The first is that the economy is fundamentally broken. She declared that “millions and millions of American families are also struggling to survive in a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected” and in which she insisted that the only response was to fight for “big structural change.”
She inveighed against corporate profits and monopolistic businesses and corrupt lawmakers who have “made this country work much better for those who can make giant contributions, made it work better for those who hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers, and not made it work for the people.”
It was present in the 2007 essay that imagined what would eventually become the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency premised on the notion that American families were being “steered into overpriced credit products, risky subprime mortgages, and misleading insurance plans'”
She proposed an array of economic policies, from a $15 minimum wage to enforcing restrictions on certain bank loans, that she argued could stave off the crisis.
(She issued a) slew of white papers and policy proposals that have poured forth from Warren’s campaign as if she were running a think tank rather than a presidential bid.
Apparently, libertarian Suderman doesn’t believe that “millions of American families are also struggling to survive in a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected” and “this country works much better for those who can make giant contributions, and for those who hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers.”
He is living in a libertarian dream world.
He doesn’t like that Warren has proposed a $15 minimum wage, up from the current federal minimum of $7.25 hour — barely survivable for a single person, and poverty-level for supporting a family.
Libertarian Suderman doesn’t like that Warren wants to restrict the terrible bank loans that contributed to the “Great Recession of 2008.”
Suderman doesn’t like that Warren has issued “white papers and policy proposals,” rather than merely promising generalities and American greatness.
In the space of just a few months this year, Warren released plans for everything from ending drilling on public lands to breaking up Facebook and Amazon.
She wants to spend $500 billion on affordable housing and trillions more to cancel most student debt, make public college tuition free, and offer subsidies for childcare.
And she has proposed paying for these costly programs with wealth taxes designed not only to offset the price tag of new government spending but to help reduce economic inequality by shrinking large stores of wealth.
To Suderman, ending drilling on public lands, providing affordable housing, canceling student debt, and offering free college tuitions — i.e. ideas to narrow the Gap between the rich and the rest — are terrible.
He is right about one thing: “Paying for” her ideas with a wealth tax is unnecessary and unworkable. It is unnecessary because the federal government, being uniquely Monetarily Sovereign, it creates dollars at will. So, your federal taxes do not fund federal spending.
Unworkable, because “wealth” is far too easy for the truly wealthy to hide.
Warren’s penchant for wonky policy detail has defined her candidacy: “Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that” has become a rallying cry and a slogan, one her fans have plastered across an array of T-shirts and campaign signs.
Warren has happily embraced this persona, joking with crowds that her focus on the details of federal agencies would turn them all into nerds.
Heaven forbid that a candidate supplies plans and details. To Suderman, it would be far better to offer bland Trump-like generalities, like “Repeal and replace ACA”” and “Build the wall” than to provide specific, people-friendly details.
Warren wants the federal government to be the American economy’s hall monitor, telling individuals and companies what they can and can’t sell or buy and making some of the nation’s most successful businesses answer to her demands.
Being the economy’s “hall monitor,” i.e. preventing miscreants from stealing, is exactly what the federal government should do.
And oh, horrors, telling the nation’s most successful businesses what dishonesty not to commit, is unthinkable to Suderman, who seems to believe that “liberty” means allowing big business to do whatever it pleases.
It seems to be working. During the first six months of 2019, this strategy vaulted Warren into the top tier of Democratic primary contenders, helping her raise more than $19 million during the year’s second quarter and placing her among the top three or four candidates in the party’s crowded field.
Focus groups and political reporting have consistently found that Democratic voters are warming not only to the substance of Warren’s ideas but to the very fact that she has them.
Well yes. Having ideas and detailing them, not only is good politics, but it is good governance. Would that more politicians did it.
Although she has received kudos for the volume and specificity of her plans, Warren has a history of pushing misleading research and cherry-picked data designed to support politicized conclusions.
Warren first rose to prominence as the co-author of a pioneering study of consumer bankruptcy, which was published in book form in 1989 under the title As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America.
Warren and her co-authors based the book on a trove of court data from about 1,500 bankruptcy cases in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas during 1981.
The book relied on real-world case studies. Warren statistically analyzed a trove of unique data. She was telling a story to make an argument about politics and policy.
The story was that rapacious credit card companies, rather than consumer overspending, were primarily responsible for a run-up in consumer debt and the resulting sense that household budgets had grown more precarious.
The book’s authors saw bankruptcy in broadly sympathetic terms, as a financial safety net for struggling families. In the years that followed, Warren would go on to become one of the nation’s most prominent advocates of making bankruptcy easier, more lenient, and more accessible.
But that story had some notable problems. Among others, it was based on cases from 1981, a recession year when consumers would have looked worse off than usual. It was released years later, after a significant reform to the bankruptcy code in 1984 rendered its picture of American bankruptcy somewhat out of date.
Here, Suderman criticizes the currency of Warren’s bankruptcy research, none of which has anything to do with the currency of her above-mentioned economic recommendations.
It’s as though Suderman would hate her ideas for child-rearing because her book on auto repair is out of date. In short, Suderman’s criticism is inane and utter nonsense.
And note the words, “rather than consumer overspending.” They illustrate the libertarian belief that poor people are responsible for their own misfortune.
Warren drew on her bankruptcy research to argue that the middle class had been given a raw deal.
The number of households filing for bankruptcy had shot up dramatically, she said, and it wasn’t because they were spending too much.
Instead, the increasingly high cost of housing, driven heavily by competition for access to good schools, and the pile-up of medical debt were driving families into dire straits.
It is the high cost of living, not just housing, has driven families into dire straights.
Again, Suderman wants to “prove” Warren is completely wrong, by trying to nit-pick a point of data, when her overall conclusion (that the Gap between rich and poor has widened, and many families are in financial trouble and need protection) is correct.
These effects were compounded by the movement of women into the workforce.
Where stay-at-home wives had once served as a safety net—the earners of last resort should a breadwinner husband lose his job—the rise of the working mother had increased financial risk for two-earner families.
The book’s findings were marked by controversy and unanswered questions about the soundness of her methodology. In particular, Warren’s notion that housing prices have been pushed upward by school competition doesn’t fully stand up to scrutiny.
Although research has found that school quality does impact housing prices, the effect is fairly modest. A 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found a 2.5 percent increase in home prices for every 5 percent increase in test scores.
And in what way does the so-called “fairly modest” difference in home prices negate Warren’s position on student debt, mortgage supervision, family bankruptcy, the minimum wage, and the prevention of financial cheating by large companies?
It doesn’t, but Suderman tries to make his point by fixating on minutia to distract you from the main point, that middle-class families are struggling, and the very purpose of government is to improve the lives of its citizens.
And then there’s the role of taxes. In the book’s hypothetical comparison budgets, Warren presents taxes as a percentage of household income—24 percent in the 1970s, 33 percent in the 2000s—which the book describes as a 35 percent change.
Yet as George Mason University law professor and consumer finance scholar Todd Zywicki has noted, the choice to render taxes only as a percentage of income has the effect of masking the total dollar value.
Using Warren’s own figures, Zywicki calculated that the tax increase—owing partly to the hypothetical family hitting a new tax bracket and partly to the imposition of additional state, local, and property taxes over time—was by far the largest factor affecting the modern family’s budget.
Warren’s numbers, in other words, showed that families had been strapped not by increased spending on homes or health insurance but by a bigger tax bill.
Yes, taxes on the middle classes are too high. So, how does that eliminate the need to follow Warren’s proposals? Again, it doesn’t. It’s just another Suderman diversion.
Zywicki is among Warren’s most outspoken critics, and he has made this case—that Warren’s data do not show what she claims they do about the plight of the middle class—on multiple occasions over the span of more than a decade.
What Suderman fails to mention is that Zywicki is a senior fellow, paid by the Cato Institute, that aforementioned libertarian think tank, which spends its time and money trying to prove that government not only is unnecessary but a hindrance to America.
Zywick is not exactly an impartial commenter.
Warren co-authored a Health Affairs study purporting to show that at least 46 percent of the nation’s bankruptcies were a result of medical bills, a figure she subsequently updated to 62 percent.
Her research claimed that medically induced bankruptcies had increased a shocking 23-fold since 1981.
President Barack Obama warned that sky-high medical costs had forced many Americans to “live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.”
One wonders, what is the fundamental point Suderman is trying to demonstrate? That sky-high medical costs are not a serious financial problem for millions of Americans?
The response by Warren and her co-authors was revealing. In one sense, they were engaged in a conventional academic dispute about interpreting bankruptcy data. But what they were really fighting about—what was really at stake—was public policy.
Warren clearly believed that the value of her research was in the story it told and the way that story informed and influenced the real world of politics and public affairs.
Yes, that exactly is the point. What does it matter whether housing prices, or school costs, or medical costs are most responsible for bankruptcies or other forms of financial distress?
The point that Suderman doesn’t want you to understand is that these are problems the federal government can and should address. It has the means, if only it had the will.
Sadly, the Sudermans of the world would rather quibble about differences in data than to solve the clear and obvious problems that plague us.
Yes, some things are more troublesome than others, but that does not mean we should stall. while people suffer, debating how much more troublesome school costs are than medical costs.
But perhaps, stalling is what Suderman wants.
In the aftermath of the 2007–08 financial crisis, Congress, then controlled by Democrats, passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was billed as a direct response to the economic meltdown and an attempt to make sure it never happened again.
A centerpiece of the bill was the creation of a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was modeled on Warren’s original proposal.
The bureau, as imagined by Warren, was premised on the notion that consumers did not and in some cases could not understand the financial services they relied on, and that only an army of unusually powerful government bureaucrats could save them from blundering into the tricks and traps set by lenders.
And that is absolutely correct. Left to their own designs, the banks created the most convoluted, complex financial products, that no one, not even Suderman, could understand, then sold them to the public, with disastrous results.
The CFPB’s mission, meanwhile, was far more expansive than its origin story might imply. From payday lenders to cash advance services, many of the financial products it was given the power to regulate had little or nothing to do with the financial crisis.
Suderman’s senseless point seems to be that if a financial scam had nothing to do with the Great Recession, it should be ignored.
The CFPB was the culmination of decades of research and advocacy on Warren’s part. She had imagined it, fought for its creation, and then, from her perch in the administration, ushered it into being.
And yet there was a kind of victory as well, in the simple fact of the CFPB’s creation. Warren would not be its leader—that role would eventually go to former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordroy, who was given a recess appointment that caused its own controversy—but she had willed it into being and would continue to provide spiritual guidance.
She did not achieve her political ambitions, but on the policy question, she had triumphed.
In the years that followed, something strange happened: Warren, the icon of progressivism whose political brand had proven too toxic to move through the CFPB nomination process, became the object of a strange new respect from the right.
Apparently, being respected by some right-wingers is a curse for Suderman.
Under President Donald Trump, in July, The American Conservative, long a bastion of immigration-skeptical conservative nationalism, ran an essay extolling Warren’s economics, particularly her plans for a new bureaucracy dedicated to “defending good-paying American jobs,” and saying that in some respects, “Warren may be a bigger economic nationalist than even Trump himself.”
A paragraph of utter nonsense, but what else can one expect in political discourse?
Nor is Warren’s popularity limited to small opinion journals.
In June, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, among the most-watched hosts on cable news and an influence on the Trump administration, opened his show with an extended monologue praising Warren’s domestic jobs plan and its elevation of “economic patriotism,” which calls for, in the senator’s words, “aggressive new government policies to support American workers.”
“Many of Warren’s policy prescriptions make obvious sense,” Carlson said. “She sounds like Donald Trump at his best.” Later, at a conference in July, he praised The Two-Income Trap as “one of the best books I’ve ever read on economics.”
Suderman’s position is if a right-winger likes any of her recommendations that is prima facie evidence she is not a progressive. It’s wrong and a bit goofy, but it’s Suderman.
But then, the quick reversal:
It is hard to imagine the Republican Party ever embracing Elizabeth Warren. Trump frequently mocks her claims of Native American heritage, and the congressional GOP continues to view her with deep hostility. She’ll never be an ally to the party.
But in some increasingly influential corners of the right, her ideas and her outlook are winning.
The rest of Suderman’s long article is a rehash of his “unaffordability” claim about her proposals, and his dislike of the detail with which she presents them.
But “unaffordability” is a false claim concerning federal spending, and quibbling about the details rather than solving the big-picture problems solves nothing.
Government is created by the governed to improve their lives. That is the purpose of government.
Peter Suderman is a classic libertarian, a hater of government. As a libertarian, he wastes more than 6,000 words denying the obvious — that for many people, good schooling, good housing, good food, and good medical care are unaffordable and that the banking industry has cheated millions of innocent people.
Suderman denies that many families are driven into bankruptcy by trying to pay for the abovementioned schooling, housing, food, and medical care, or eschewing bankruptcy, they must forego these life necessities.
Suderman also hints at the libertarian’s “bootstraps” theory, in which the victim is blamed for not earning enough, or being frugal enough, or smart enough to pay for their own needs.
To libertarians, “liberty” means freedom from government help. People should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, rather than depending on the government.
Then he applies the libertarian, “Catch 22” objection to deny people those bootstraps by implying that the $15 minimum wage is a bad idea. “Gotcha!”
In the real world, our “bootstraps” consist of things like a good education, good health, good housing, and money — all of which the federal government can and should provide — and all of which libertarian Suderman would not provide.
Why does libertarian Suderman deny the obvious?
Because to admit it would require him to offer solutions, and those solutions inevitably require federal spending — an anathema to libertarians.
Warren’s proposals are fact-driven and logical, which Suderman dismisses as “bloodless.” Her proposals also benefit the poor and middle classes, which Suderman dismisses as “moralizing.”
Suderman and the libertarians live in a harsh mythical world, where there is no allowance for poverty, people are expected to be born with all they need to succeed, and it only is laziness that prevents them from realizing their dreams.
Asking for help from the government supposedly is a moral and financial imposition on the rest of us who, of course, are self-sufficient.
It is the ultimate expression of Gap Psychology, in which people wish to widen the income/wealth/power Gap below them.