Elizabeth Warren is no radical

Her technocratic plans are no threat to the establishment.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer

Topics Politics USA World

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for the US presidency has been described as ‘populist’, ‘insurgent’ and even ‘socialist’, both by her supporters and her critics. Pundits tend to either marvel or recoil at the sheer volume of policy proposals being churned out by her campaign. They’ve dubbed her the ‘woman with a plan for everything’.

But for an alleged radical, Warren seems to be garnering support in many constituencies that found Bernie Sanders’ 2016 challenge to Hillary Clinton too left-wing.

This is in part down to her willingness to play the identity-politics game. A pundit for MSNBC – the broadcast wing of Clintonite Democrats – has said that anyone still supporting Sanders instead of Warren was ‘showing [their] sexism’. Warren has at various points in her career claimed to be a Native American, to have been fired for getting pregnant, and to have been ‘the first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey’. All of these claims have been disputed.

Others admire Warren’s wonkishness. A Vox columnist, for instance, delights at her proposals to ‘make corporate governance great again’.

Even the more balanced responses are telling. A recent editorial in The Economist describes Warren’s mission to ‘remake capitalism’ as ‘remarkable’. And though The Economist seems wary of an agenda it sees as too radical and left-wing (it is the bible of economic liberalism, after all), it also sees much it can get behind in Warren’s plans, from a $15 minimum wage to new antitrust laws.

So how can Warren be both a left-wing radical and a relatively safe choice for the pundit class? Partly this is because her critique of capitalism is so limited. Her core message is simple. American capitalism has failed to deliver for the middle class because a corrupt elite is siphoning off the spoils for itself. Putting ‘corruption’ front and centre means that Warren’s solutions are necessarily limited to dealing with a few bad apples, rather than questioning the underlying structure of contemporary capitalism and the unequal distribution of power it is producing among classes.

In fact, blaming ‘corruption’ for capitalism’s ills is hardly any different to an often-voiced right-wing critique of the modern economy. Warren was a free-market libertarian once – she left the Republicans in 1996. And libertarians will often tell you that, of course, capitalism has problems today, but the real problem is ‘crony capitalism’ or ‘corporatism’. The difference is that the right-wing solution is always to remove regulations, whereas Warren’s proposed solution is to have more and better regulations, managed by new technocratic bodies.

This is not to say there is no benefit in some of the specific actions Warren has in mind. Monopoly power has been allowed to accrue to an alarming extent in some sectors, particularly Big Tech. A pushback is welcome. Plus, in an era of wage stagnation, her plan to almost double the minimum wage is nothing to be sniffed at.

But let’s not pretend that Warren’s campaign is a major ‘insurgent’ challenge to the economic and social order. The main beneficiaries of a Warren presidency would be the professional-managerial class – aka the ‘liberal elite’ – who would populate all the new government bodies she has in mind. It is they who would be given new unaccountable powers to manage parts of the economy in their interests. At most, this could rebalance power among different factions of the ruling class. The more Republican-leaning business and banking wing of the establishment would have to cede some control to the Democratic professional wing of the establishment. But that would barely be worthy of a footnote in the history of class struggle.

What’s more, many expect Warren’s grand plans to be watered down if she ever gets into the White House. The Economist points to the lack of economic radicalism in the rest of the Democratic Party, which would inevitably slow any reform agenda. In a recent interview, Harry Reid, a former senator and Warren’s political mentor, pushed back at a question insinuating that Warren is too radical. He said he expects her to be more ‘pragmatic’ after securing the Democratic nomination. She has herself been aggressively courting centrist party insiders – those who scuppered Bernie Sanders’ chances of gaining the nomination in 2016 – and trying to privately reassure them she is on their side.

Slavoj Zizek hit the nail on the head when he described Warren as ‘Clinton with a human face’, promising ‘socialism without socialism’. The ‘big, structural change’ that Warren is offering amounts mostly to the creation of a new layer of the state divorced from democratic politics. She expects a morally virtuous class of elite bureaucrats and lawyers to save us from the bad elites in the business world. Warren’s technocracy is not the answer.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

Let’s cancel cancel culture

Free speech is under attack from all sides – from illiberal laws, from a stifling climate of conformity, and from a powerful, prevailing fear of being outed as a heretic online, in the workplace, or even among friends, for uttering a dissenting thought. This is why we at spiked are stepping up our fight for speech, expanding our output and remaking the case for this most foundational liberty. But to do that we need your help. spiked – unlike so many things these days – is free. We rely on our loyal readers to fund our journalism. So if you want to support us, please do consider becoming a regular donor. Even £5 per month can be a huge help. You can find out more and sign up here. Thank you! And keep speaking freely.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


T Maz

8th November 2019 at 7:00 pm

How do ignorant crappy writers like Myers get published on this site? I can only blame the editors for giving them voice they have not earned.

Even some of the big business Democratic donors are running away from Warren’s communism and wealth taxes, warning not to let her get nominated. Unfortunately, she is well within the bounds of insanity currently on display in that party. As much as Trump has angered many voters, the choice is stark – he is the more sane option!

Terry Hulsey

6th November 2019 at 5:45 pm

“Warren is no radical”? What planet is F. Myers on?
Any reasonable examination of her policies proves that her election would be an unqualified disaster, especially for the poor that her finger-jabbing vindictiveness claims to support.
• Medicare for all is impossibly expensive; Warren’s own party members (Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)) said it would cost between $21 and $31 TRILLION over 10 years (some studies say $52 trillion);
• Her wealth tax idea was tried in 12 European countries in 1990; 9 scrapped it because it did not raise the projected amounts;
• Her threat to bust up Amazon, Google and Facebook would NOT produce any more competition since they do not have subsidiaries that could be empowered to offer it;
• Her $15 minimum wage might benefit a lucky few, but many more now employed at a lower rate would be out of a job;
• Her plan to shutter “payday lenders” would punish those who have no other loan alternatives;
• Her lust for leveling income inequality will make employers think twice about hiring the women and minorities most likely to bring them before regulators;
• Her desire to institute forced unionization would shackle harder-working employees to their featherbedding co-workers;
I’ll be sure to look for F. Myers’ columns – so that I can avoid reading tendentious nonsense.

Ven Oods

6th November 2019 at 6:00 pm

“Medicare…. would cost between $21 and $31 TRILLION over 10 years (some studies say $52 trillion)”
I calculate there are roughly 4 times as many US citizens as there are UK citizens. So, I’d expect a welfare medical system to cost around 4 times what the UK system costs. I’m pretty sure we won’t be spending $13 trillion on it in the next 10 years. Perhaps US medicine and medics are much more costly than those in the UK? That might explain those projections…

Jonathan Swift

8th November 2019 at 8:56 pm

Since the Establishment is “Progressive” and Warrant is “Progressive”, she isn’t that much different than the Establishment.

Joe Stalin called “Progressives” by a less misleading term: “Useful idiots”!

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.