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Warren on Clinton

In this interview of Elizabeth Warren by Bill Moyers from 2004, she recounts a story about then Senator Hillary Clinton. It is an interesting story about Clinton, but even more it is an indictment of the insane influence of money on our political system.



  1. Michael wrote:

    I generally love everything that Elizabeth Warren says, but I sometimes wonder if her dialogue (and everyone else’s) is backwards. Yes, I agree with the premise that money is more of an influence on the political process than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Consequently, we’ve had people like Warren, McCain, and Feingold working on changing government to protect it with new laws. This suggests that the problem is government. The structure of our government is such that it makes it vulnerable to outside corruption. Frankly, though, I don’t think there is anything that can be done in the form of new legislation to fix the problem. Specifically, these are solutions to minor problems that completely ignore the real problem: the corruption and dehumanization of business processes.

    Remember that it was Henry Ford who voluntarily paid his employees very well. He wanted them to be able to afford to buy the products they built. It also served him well, because he attracted better workers. Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth encouraged the rich to help those less fortunate. IBM (my former employer) used to have the reputation that employees worked there for life; now, most employees have been there for less than 5 years and it is rare to find someone who has been there for more than a decade. I think that was true of a lot of employers decades ago. There was a social contract between employers and employees. Sure, there was occasional tension, but the relationship was mutually beneficial overall. We still have this ideal of business leaders being like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: balancing their self-interests with how to help society.

    But then things changed, and I propose a date of birth: September 13, 1970. That was the day that Milton Friedman published an article in NY Times Magazine titled, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” That essay paved the way for the slavish devotion to quarterly profits at the expense of concern for the welfare of workers. That essay laid the intellectual framework for Reaganomics and the notion the government is the problem, because it interferes with business. That essay changed the prevailing philosophy in business: Failure to maximize profits is not just a sign of ineffective business practices, it is also a moral failure. As one relative (who has been very successful in business) put it: If it is legal, there is no moral question. If there is an action that is legal and will increase your profit, you take that action regardless of other outcomes. You have a moral obligation to do so, because you would otherwise be failing to maximize your profits.

    I also believe this single essay is the true cause of our political mess: As a result of this essay, business leaders now believe that they have an obligation to lobby Congress, as well as state and local governments, for changes that will increase their profits. After all, as long as it is legal, it is moral. If it’s not currently legal, lobby to make it so.

    I believe that passing campaign finance laws, etc., are doomed to failure. Not because their intention is wrong, but because they fail to reflect the true nature of the problem. I don’t think that the nature of government is any different than it was 100 years ago. I think politicians in the Gilded Age were no more nor less sleazy than John Boehner. In fact, our modern system does have one advantage: more visibility and transparency with laws like FOIA. Government hasn’t changed. Business has, and that’s the real problem. Our political problems are being caused by the continual onslaught of businesses that are now built and run based on the Friedman ideal: pursuit of profit without regard for societal impact.

    I would equate reform laws with putting on a Kevlar vest to protect yourself from a speeding Mack truck headed your way. Sure, the Kevlar makes you less vulnerable to some threats, but it does nothing to stop the truck. Until the culture of business changes, I do not see a solution.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Well put. I also struggle to figure out how to fix this problem, and I’m not sure we can legislate a solution. Although I’d like to try a bit more.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Dan wrote:

    I love Sen. Dr. Warren. This is not surprising. Read a book called “None Dare Call it Conspiracy” written during the Nixon years, or “Call it Conspiracy” written during the Clinton years.
    Webb-Warren 2016!!!

    Friday, September 12, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

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