A couple months after Trump’s inauguration, a friend and I quibbled over the notion of Rand Paul as President. In that exchange he puzzled as to why I, as a libertarian, am not a fan of Elizabeth Warren. My response was that she was a textbook big-government redistributionist. My friend asked for elaboration, because he didn’t really see it (because, I suspect, his political priorities focused far less on matters economic than mine). Piqued by the question nonetheless, I decided to drill down, at that time, into her policy positions and see how much “libertarian” there is there.

I wrote a first draft, but with Warren not being high in the news at the time, saw no reason to publish it.

Since she recently tossed her hat in the ring for the Dem presidential nomination for 2020 (surprising, oh, just about nobody), and since a friend posited the question as to whether she could win, I dusted the draft off.

I started with her own web page, where she has categorized her positions on the issues. Please note, my comments are not verbatim quotes, but rather my summation of her positions based on what I read on her site at the time. That issues page was NOT accessible at the time of this update, redirecting instead to a plea for an email address, support, and money, so some of these may have evolved since then. Therefore consider this list a bit “historical.” I’d also consider it more honest, frankly, since whatever we get going forward will have been massaged for this presidential run.

EDUCATION:
– Supports public funding of post-secondary education.
– Supports forgiving student loan debt.
– Supports expansion of public pre-K programs.
– Supports increased funding for school lunch programs.
– Seems to oppose teacher accountability efforts.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: More of the same old “pour money into the system.” No mention or support for school choice. Public funding for college is grossly un-libertarian, and a stupid idea in general.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT:
– Supports continued subsidies for “clean” aka non-carbon energy.
– Asserts that “dirty” energy gets massive subsidies, and wants them stopped.
– Believes in the catastrophic version of global warming theory.
– Asserts that Big Oil and Big Coal are driving the agenda, and declares against them.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Grossly overstates the subsidies that carbon energy gets. We agree they should end, but we strongly disagree that solar and wind should continue to receive them. As for global warming, the government’s approach is economically destructive and disproportionately harms the poorest people of America and the world. Warren shows no awareness of this, and shows every sign of wanting heavy government intervention in the energy sector. Obviously, this is remotely not-libertarian. GRADE: D

FOREIGN POLICY:
– Supports Clinton’s “Smart Power” ideas.
– Wants out of Afghanistan.
– Says nuclear weapon proliferation is a Bad Thing, and supports Obama’s Iran deal.
– Supports Israel and advocates for a two-state solution.
– Links domestic economy to global force projection.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Getting out of Afghanistan is good. Continued muscular militarism, not so much. Support for Israel is good, but it’s not America’s place to dictate the terms of the “solution” in the Middle East. GRADE: C

HEALTH CARE:
– Supports popular provisions of ObamaCare. Offers little of substance beyond that.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Her website didn’t offer enough to judge, so I went to another source to understand her position. She favors ObamaCare, opposes repeal, and says Congress should focus on lowering costs. She also supports mandated “preventive care” for women, which I’ll interpret as her supporting the contraception and abortion mandates of ObamaCare. Libertarians oppose big-government health care, favoring free-market reforms. Warren’s clearly on the side of big-government here. GRADE: F

HOUSING:
– Supports major government intervention in mortgages and housing, including “principal write downs, refinancing options for homes that are underwater, cash for keys, short sales.”

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Government created the housing problem by skewing the market with the CRA and with the behaviors of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. More government is NOT the solution. GRADE: D

JOBS AND THE ECONOMY:
– Creator and champion of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
– Supports “investing” in renewable energy.
– Repeats desire to spend more on schools.
– Supports major infrastructure spending.
– Supports spending on research.
– Supports “making it easier” for workers to unionize.
– Writes of “fair” trade, including requiring that trade partners respect workers’ rights and environmental rules.
– Sponsored “jobs bills” – I didn’t research the content.
– Writes of “simplifying regulation” for small businesses.
– Wants to cut tax breaks for Big Oil and Big Gas.
– Wants to close loophole for hedge fund managers.
– Wants to raise taxes to Clinton-era levels, but only on the rich.
– Wants to cut defense spending

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Again, every sign of big-government meddling, regulation, picking of winners and losers, and massive spending. More regulation. “Tax the rich” class warfare (our “rich” already carry a far bigger relative burden than those in other countries). The positives? Simplifying regulation for small businesses, ending targeted tax breaks (a shame she won’t end them all) and cutting defense spending by exiting our foreign wars. GRADE: D

IMMIGRATION:
– Uphold existing laws regarding illegals (excuse me, “undocumented workers”).
– Path to citizenship for illegals.
– Retain immigrants who studied here.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Finally, some common ground. I agree with Warren that we need immigration reform, and I agree with her bullet points. I think she should go farther, and I think her stated position is too soft and hald-wavey to give an A, so on this I’ll give her a solid GRADE: B.

LGBT EQUALITY:
– Supports gay marriage.
– Supports protections against anti-LGBT discrimination.
– Advocates against bullying.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: The proper libertarian position on discrimination is that market forces are the best means for resolution, but absent government’s broader removal, it’s proper that laws apply to all citizens. This is the same rationale for libertarian advocacy for gay marriage i.e. if the government’s going to be involved in the marriage contract, it cannot exclude some citizens from it. The anti-bullying stuff, on the other hand, is another example of too much government nannying. GRADE: B.

MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY:
– Opposes privatization or voucherization of Medicare.
– Advocates for price controls on drugs.
– Asserts that Social Security is safe for at least the next 20 years, and that modest changes can keep the system solvent.
– Calls privatization schemes “risky.”

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Warren has, like so many other politicians, her head in the sand about the realities of Medicare and Social Security. The longer we wait to address the deep structural problems and underfunding, the harder the system will crash and the more impossible it will be to fix. She’s merely kicking the can down the road, just as countless others have and continue to. SS and Medicare are the biggest medium-to-long-term threats the nation faces, and to wave their problems off with “we can get another 20 years out of them with some tweaks” (while simultaneously talking doomsday about global warming, whose big effects are many decades away), is pure denialism. GRADE: F.

WOMEN:
– Equal Pay for Equal Work. Quotes the popular 77-cents-on-the-dollar disparity statistic.
– Asserts insurance company discrimination against women.
– Supports mandates regarding “reproductive services.”
– Is pro-choice, without restriction.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Liberals want government restricted from meddling in exactly one aspect of our lives: abortion. There is virtually nothing else that we might do that they feel cannot benefit from some government oversight. Moreso, Warren et al believe that government should require insurers to cover the costs of abortions.

Libertarians are of varying minds on the matter of abortion itself, with a substantial number (but not all) believing that an unborn child has as many rights as any other human. For this reason, there’s no “grading” Warren on her pro-choice position from a libertarian perspective. That said, the mandate that insurers cover “reproductive services” is, like any other coverage mandate, very un-libertarian.

As for Equal Pay for Equal Work, the 77 cent stat has been thoroughly discredited, making Warren’s singling it out as a cause for government intervention either willful ignorance or overt pandering on her part. GRADE: D.

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD:
Here we find Warren’s big pet issue. I won’t recap it, other than to say she’s positioned herself as the sheriff who’s looking to round up and rein in the Wall Street bad boys and the K Street lobbyists. She’s right in saying that “Washington is wired to work for the big guys, the ones who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” but fails to understand that government has never figured out how to counteract this reality. Either that, or she deliberately ignores the inextricable symbiosis between Big Business and Big Government. Libertarians understand that the only way to disempower the “big guy” bias that exists is to shrink government. Warren’s approach – more government, more regulation, more taxes, is flat-out wrong. As is her specific opposition to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, opposition that shows either a lack of understanding of liberty and the Bill of Rights or overt antipathy for liberty and rights.

She also reiterates her soak-the-rich mantra by calling for heavier taxes on the “most profitable” corporations. Masking it, of course, in language about “fair share.” When coupled with her infamous social contract statement:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Warren’s words ignore the fact that the users of roads do pay for them, with taxes, tolls, registration fees and the like. Workers are compensated for their knowledge and learning because they are paid for the work they do. And, last I checked, college tuition isn’t publicly funded. Sure, the government has underwritten loans and provided grants to students, but it is the universities that are making the real bank off those loans and grants. And, the social order that she writes about is paid for by the taxes that people and businesses pay. An obligation to “pay it forward,” however, is her own fabrication.

LIBERTARIAN VERDICT: Here lies Warren’s fundamental incompatibility with libertarian principles. She shows ZERO acknowledgment of the principle of self-ownership and ownership of the fruits of one’s labor. She is specific in her vilification of business, especially big business, as if too much success obviates one’s rights. She engages in overt class warfare and left-populism, making it clear that she believes government is the proper (and possibly the ONLY) vehicle by which perceived injustices and inequalities are to be addressed. I won’t presume deceitful or cynical motives here, because it’s proven by history that good and earnest people can, despite being intelligent and having a wealth of information available to them, be very wrong. So, I’m going to give her a “B” for intentions, because she’s right that there are scumbags on Wall Street and K Street that bend the system in their favor, but an “D” for policy, because it is exactly her “big government” approach that has enabled and empowered the scumbags for decades. When there’s a lot of money at play (as there is in tax-and-spend-and-redistribute governments), the incentives are too high to be ignored, and cronyism and regulatory capture rule the day. Warren may genuinely think that she can fix all this, but consider that so many of the shenanigans out of Wall Street and K Street have come despite their having been MASSIVELY regulated for decades upon decades.

I didn’t expect to find much to change my opinion of Warren in this little bit of exploration, and I was right. As the face of the modern Left, her ideas and policy prescriptions are obvious and predictable, and I didn’t discover too much new in perusing her formally stated positions. On social matters, she aligns better with libertarians than conservatives do insofar as attitudes and viewpoints go, but there is the unfortunate and inevitable conflation of social tolerance with demands that government’s heavy hand impose that tolerance on everyone. Economically and governmentally, she’s FAR, FAR from the libertarian position. On matters of foreign policy, she’s appears better than the neocons, but I don’t see the libertarian’s opposition to militarism in her positions. Perhaps the best commonality is found in immigration reform, where libertarians are at the biggest odds with conservatives.

Putting it all together, my original verdict remains. I think Rand Paul would have been (and would be) a great president, and I think Elizabeth Warren would be a lousy one.

But, can she win? The nomination or the general election?

As to the nomination, the royal-rumble we are about to witness will include a dozen other candidates who say the same things and advocate the same policy ideas. That she may have been first to them will matter to her core of loyalists, but that core alone isn’t going to carry her past the goal-line. The fact that she’s a woman would have carried some weight, but for her enormous unforced error in the Native American heritage business. She can’t win at identity politics at all, not in the nomination scrum, and if she plays, it’ll hurt her. She also lacks charisma, unless one is predisposed to the “liberal scold” school of politicking, so she has nothing in that regard to separate her from the pack. She’s got more name recognition than many others who’ll be running, and with a field of dozens, anything’s possible, but as of today I don’t see how she gets the nomination.

As to the general election? It all depends on Trump’s last few months prior to the election. If he has a good economy and a pocket full of recent sellable successes, he wins. If he has turmoil and a string of unforced errors, he loses.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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