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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Elizabeth Warren

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On an all new episode of Influencers, Andy Serwer sits down with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to discuss her new book ‘Persist as well as cryptocurrency, inflation, and the need for a wealth tax in the U.S.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: The Biden administration wants to tax big business and the rich to pay for about $4 trillion in spending on the economic recovery. But corporate America has largely rejected the plan. The standoff will shape the US economy for years to come. And few know battles like this better than Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, public enemy number one for many of the nation's billionaires.

A former 2020 presidential candidate, Warren grew up in Oklahoma, dropped out of college to get married, and later became a law professor at Harvard University and the brain behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, all before she joined the Senate in 2013. In this episode of "Influencers," Senator Warren joins me to talk about what's next for her wealth tax proposal, whether Democratic spending bills could drive up inflation, and if she would ever run for president again.


Welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Elizabeth Warren, Democratic US Senator from Massachusetts and author of the new book "Persist." Senator, welcome.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you. It's good to be here with you.

ANDY SERWER: So before we get to your book, I want to get your thoughts on some news of the day. Your reaction to the Facebook oversight board ruling on Donald Trump? Bernie Sanders recently said he didn't feel comfortable, quote "Giving that much power to a handful of high-tech people." What are your thoughts?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well first, I'm glad that Donald Trump's not gonna be on Facebook. Suits me. But part two is that this is just further demonstration that these giant tech companies are way, way, way too powerful.

And listen to the arrogance of it. The name of the group that made the decision is called The Supreme Court. I-- I missed the part where those people had hearings in front of Congress before and were voted on before they were made decision makers with this kind of the authority.

You know, we need to break up these big tech companies. And we need to do it for two reasons. One is a pretty straightforward economic reason. Think, for example-- Amazon is the easiest one-- there is Amazon running that platform. You want to buy or sell goods on that platform you pretty much have to go to Amazon.

And Amazon makes money doing that. But they also rake off all of the information that goes on in those transactions. So Amazon then decides, huh, let's see what else is happening here. Andy is running a pet food business. And you had the idea. And you had to do the proof of concept. And you had to finance it and get out there and start it.

Amazon looks at that and says, we can see from Andy's numbers that it's turned out real good. So we'll just turn this into NDO's pet food business and move Andy, the original guy, back to page seven and just scoop up all the business. Anti-competitive. So they need to be broken up in order to keep commerce flourishing. You can either run the platform or you can compete in the businesses, but you don't get to do both at the same time.

Second reason we need to break these guys up is how much political power they have. The idea that they're deciding whose voice gets heard and whose voice doesn't, and they do that on their own with something they call a Supreme Court-- no, no. They have too much influence and they pose a threat to our democracy. Time to enforce our antitrust laws and break them up.

ANDY SERWER: Got it. Switching over to COVID and vaccines in the news. You said last week the Biden administration should use all tools to alleviate COVID crises around the world. Should that include supporting a waiver of patents for COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer, and others?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes. Look, this is not a time to be protecting the multi-billions of dollars in profits for these companies. We put up taxpayer to do the original research. We put up taxpayer, either in the form of direct grants or in the form of promising to buy the goods when they developed these vaccines. We put a lot of public money into this. And we're glad to have public-private partnership in this.

But this is a crisis. And as a humanitarian matter, and frankly, it's just a matter of our international relations, we need to be out there getting those vaccines into the arms of as many human beings as possible, not doing what a handful of already billionaire drug companies want us to do in order to protect their profits.

ANDY SERWER: So I assume we should be spent-- sending more vaccines overseas?

ELIZABETH WARREN: We absolutely should be. ANDY SERWER: All right. Another item in the news-- Republicans are building momentum to kick Liz Cheney out of leadership for opposing Donald Trump and acknowledging Biden's win. Would that be significant? And do you think Donald Trump is still really running the Republican Party at this point?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I just don't get this. I really don't. I do not understand how one major political party in America can make its foundational truth now the big lie. It's just-- it's not true. And Liz Cheney-- you know, she must feel like the kid in the you know, "The Emperor Has no Clothes" to just stand up and say, oh, that guy is naked.

I'm no fan politically of-- of Liz Cheney. There are about 100 out of 100 places that we could disagree with each other. But at least she's trying to start with the truth.

And the truth is that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump fair and square. He beat him by more than 7 million votes. That is the biggest win that any presidential candidate has had ever anywhere, more than 7 million votes. And he ran against an incumbent.

And they tried lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit and just couldn't get anything, no purchase. Republicans who were secretaries of state and governors just said, look I looked at it. That's what the ballot show. This is how the election worked.

And the fact that Donald Trump is demanding that people just stand up and lie on his behalf, and the fact that so many Democrats-- so many Republicans in the House and the Senate are willing to do it, I'm telling you. That is deeply shocking and a threat to our democracy.

You-- you can't govern. You can't-- you can't go forward as a nation when you've got a political party intent on demanding that people acquiesce to a lie and do so publicly. You just can't.

ANDY SERWER: Just to follow up on that before we get to your book, Senator, how then, can you work with your colleagues across the aisle, given that sort of environment that you just outlined?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, this is really hard. And there are people right now for me, in the United States Senate that given their role, and an armed insurrection, and their unwillingness to stand up for basic Democratic principles-- that I just don't see how we go forward. And I-- I truly don't see-- I don't see how they show up every day for work if they don't fundamentally believe in democracy.

If they are willing to support an armed mob to come in and try to stop an already certified electoral process-- you know, I understand that four years of Donald Trump has been about breaking norms and so on. But there comes a point when you're down to just how democracy works, how elections work, how we let American citizens vote. We don't let them. We encourage them. That's the heart of what this government by consent is all about.

And when a chunk of a Republican-elected officials are just willing to lie, willing to turn their backs on that, they're not there to govern. They're there to-- they're there to play some other political game.

ANDY SERWER: Have you ever grabbed one of them and said, hey, come on. I mean, Biden won by 7 million votes. What are you talking about? Here privately, just between the two of us kind of thing.

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, this is-- these are folks who just-- they don't want to talk about. They say, don't talk about it, don't talk about it, don't talk about it. And I-- I watch what's happening now with Liz Cheney, and I don't know how they're going to get themselves back to a place where they are truly part of this democracy.

You know though, I say this. And it's a-- it's a really hard problem right now in Washington. But I also want to say at the same moment, I feel good about being in Washington.

Look, Joe Biden did win by more than 7 million votes. And now, look at all that's happened. Here we are, one year, we've had a global pandemic, a racial reckoning, an armed insurrection, a new president, and we've passed an historic rescue package.

So this is very much like it was in the Great Depression-- this terrible moment that created opportunity for change. Like it was in 2008-- a financial crash. And we ended up with Dodd-Frank and a new consumer agency. And now, here we are with our toes on the line to make big structural change in this country, to change how we see the role of government and how we see building an America of opportunity, not just for those who climb the greasy pole all the way to the top and are CEOs and billionaires, but how to create an America that works for everybody else. I think it's an exciting moment. It's-- it's why I wrote the book "Persist."

ANDY SERWER: Let's talk about that, Senator. You write, a "policy is personal." And so I'm curious, how has your life experience informed your politics? And how do you convey that to people who might be jaded by what we were just talking about, which is to say political posturing?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So it's-- it's a great question, Andy. You know, I-- I organized this book around the things I-- I am, that I bring to the table, a mother, a teacher, a planner, a fighter, a learner, and a woman. And in every one of these chapters, I tell a lot of very personal stories, stories that inform how I think about policy and how policy touches us so personally.

So starting with the first one. I talk about how motherhood changes everything, but not always in good ways. I-- I got fired when I got pregnant. And here, I spent my whole life thinking I was going to be a special education teacher and bang, I was out the door.

And here I am then at home with a little baby. And I get this crazy idea that I'm going to go to law school. No one in my family's even graduated from college. I'm gonna go to law school.

So you know me. I plan it all out and tuition and where I'm going to go, and even what kind of mileage I get on the car so I figure out what my budget's going to be. On that list is child care. And I got to tell you, that was the search from hell of confined places. When I did find them, they were like five towns over, or they cost a fortune, or they had a waiting list that was a mile long.

I got down to days before the first day of class. And I still didn't have childcare. And if I didn't find childcare, I wasn't going to school. Now, I got lucky. A woman was just starting up. I was able to do it. I tell the whole story how I had to potty train and not-yet two-year-old so she would qualify.

But-- but the heart of that story is that without child care, I don't finish my education. And then I tell a story again a couple of years later. I just finally sit down on the kitchen floor and cry, because I have my first job. I'm working hard. What nearly breaks my back? Child care.

So I look at that and I think about that's what it was like for me two generations ago. That's also what it was like for my daughter when she had her babies. And if we don't make change, that's what it's going to be like for my granddaughter if she has babies.

We want to build an America where everybody's got the opportunity. We want to build an America where our babies are raised well. Then we need to make an investment in universal child care, high-quality, affordable, available child care.

So straight from the thinking I was going to lose it all to a policy that the President of the United States talked about when he addressed the nation last week-- we're close. We just need a little help to push it over the line.

ANDY SERWER: You wrote about how losing in the campaign hurt. What advice would you give to the next crop of candidates who are running? And is there a double standard still, for women running for president in this country?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So look, I try to give as honest an account as I can about the questions I got asked, the things that were said to me. And yeah, there were parts of it that were really tough. But here's the thing. Ask me how sorry I am that I ran for president, because the answer is not one bit.

I ran for president for 14 months. I got up every day and I got to talk about why we need to have child care in this country, why we need to cancel student loan debt, why it's time for a wealth tax in America, and a whole bunch of other plans. Ultimately, I put together 81 glorious, juicy, delightful, exciting plans. And to get out there and fight for them.

I think of this as I got this chance to fight for what I believe in. And I hope other people who believe, people who-- who have things they want to fight for will be in inspired to get in the fight. I hope we get more women running for office.

I hope we get more people of color running for office, more young people running for office. This is our chance. This is-- this an incredible moment in American history. We don't want to let this one slip us by.

ANDY SERWER: How about Elizabeth Warren running for office again, specifically the presidency? Are you open to that?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, Joe Biden has already said he's running for re-election. My job is to help him succeed as president. The book "Persist" takes the stories that have occurred, and the data and the number and the plans. But it's really about the next 100 days in America. It's about the changes we could make in the next 100 days that would affect this nation for generations to come.

ANDY SERWER: Right. By the way, Senator, I should tell you that just crossing the tape right now, the US will support a proposal to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines--

ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes! Fantastic. I'm delighted.

ANDY SERWER: Good. So want to switch over and ask a little bit about business and finance, because we are here on Yahoo Finance-- And ask you about a surge in inflation, perhaps and some price hikes from companies. And Larry Summers said it could get out of control, even. Is this a valid concern, do you think?

ELIZABETH WARREN: No. Look, every time we talk about-- Democrats talk about making investments in the economy, a bunch of Republicans and Larry Summers stand up and say, oh, inflation. Now, notice that they don't talk about it when they make tax cuts. They just talk about it in the context of the kind of investments that Democrats want to make.

If inflation moves, we have a lot of tools to deal with it. Secretary Yellen is fully prepared in the Treasury Department. The Fed is fully prepared. We-- we got a lot of ways to deal with inflation.

I just right now, keep remembering how many times there have been a prediction that we're-- we're on the verge of inflation. And it just hasn't happened, hasn't happened, hasn't happened.

ANDY SERWER: You were an outspoken critic of Robinhood, when it shut down trading in GameStop and criticized this practice of selling retail-- selling retail trades to market makers. Should Robinhood be allowed to operate in its current business model? And if not, how should they be forced to reform?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So my principle issue with Robinhood is how much they actually disclosed to the-- to their customers about how their customer's data and how their customers trades were being used. I-- I worry a lot about these companies that get out and appear to be one kind of good-guy model. And it actually turns out, no, they're not this little scrappy upstart.

They're actually just fronting for giant companies that are making money, not only in the trades, but making money by harvesting the information ahead of everyone else in terms of what those trades are doing. So what I want to see here is I want to see the SEC take a close look. I think it's time for the SEC to update its regulations on disclosure, but also, update its regulations around what business models ought to be permissible in a market so that those markets are steady, transparent, open to everyone, and not markets where the real money is being made in the back in the shadows where no one can see it.

ANDY SERWER: I want to ask you about cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. You said that you thought that Bitcoin was speculative and might end badly, I think echoing Janet Yellen there. And then also, I think you said that cryptocurrency is easy to steal. And small investors can get scammed in those initial coin offerings.

So how should cryptocurrency be regulated, or if regulated at all? But I would imagine you think it should be regulated to a degree. And how do we move forward with this from, say, a Washington DC perspective?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So it's a good question. I put this one again, with the SEC, a reminder why we need a good strong regulatory agency that can continue to update. You know, the last time we wrote a set of-- of around how-- how money operates for sure, was long before anything like cryptocurrency had come along.

And now that-- it's not just Bitcoin. It's one after another after another inviting investors to come in without the ordinary protections of the transparency and disclosures and auditing that you get when a regular company is out there offering its stock for trade in the market. So I think that's relevant. I also think with Bitcoin that-- and the other cryptocurrencies-- I think there's a real issue about the environmental impact as well.

This whole notion of how much energy is consumed just to keep the currency tracking going, you know, you don't consume that kind of energy in order to have money on deposit at a bank or a mutual fund. In that sense, Bitcoin is very different. And in the 21st century, we're becoming a lot more sensitive to the worldwide impacts of the choices we make. And that means including the choices in the kind of currency we use.

ANDY SERWER: There has been an uproar, Senator, in corporate America over restrictive state voting laws introduced by Republicans. And you've criticized the outsized role that corporations play in politics. But are you comfortable having them as an ally here?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, corporations have had to acknowledge that what's happening to undermine democracy, this kind of voter suppression, keeping people from being able to go to the polls is a threat to everything we hold dear in this nation. And so regardless of their political affiliations otherwise, Democrat, Republican, independent, libertarian, they want to see democracy continue to work. And they also are cognizant of the fact they have employees, they have customers, and that they need to be willing to embrace people of all colors, people of all sexual identities, people of all genders.

And so what they're talking about I believe, is what is in their best interests. And in this case, I agree with them. It does not change the fact that I do not believe they should be so politically powerful, because most of the time what they're using that political power for is to cut their own taxes, so they pay less to help this country operate. And that just means middle class America has to pay more.

That they are less regulated so they can pollute more, if that's what they want to do, or turn out products that are more dangerous without somebody looking over their shoulder. And to get these things done that they influence, not just our elected officials, but our regulators, everybody throughout the-- the-- the system, even the courts-- seeing more and more former corporate lawyers put onto the courts, who-- who maintain this corporate perspective on America.

Look, I am all for seeing corporations get out there, make a profit. I believe in the markets. I believe in competitive markets. But markets without rules are theft.

And I believe it is powerfully important that we have a government that is independent and that is able to regulate to make sure that markets are transparent and level and not have so much corporate influence that they tilt those markets over and over and over in their favor. So I'm-- I'm going to stay after them.

ANDY SERWER: That's a good segue to some of the bills before Congress right now. Just a couple of questions left, Senator. Should Democrats be willing to make concessions to the GOP on infrastructure and families plan bills? And if so, what specifically would you be willing to give up, perhaps?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, look, I'm not gonna start this conversation by negotiating against myself. I need a Republican to come up and say, I want to vote for this bill if you would give me the following. And then let's talk about it.

There are some things that are more important than other things. But for the Republicans, to start out saying that we recognize that we have so many crumbling roads and bridges, so much of America that's not yet covered by broadband, so many families that desperately need childcare-- and first of all, we're only willing to put up enough money to deal with a modest fraction of that problem. And second, we just want to declare a whole bunch of stuff is not infrastructure, even though it is needed for work, like child care or senior care so that people can go to work.

If they just start out there, then look, you got to start by looking at how big the problem is. And you need a solution big enough to match the problem. So I want to hear the Republicans come in and say they're willing to talk about a solution big enough to match the problem.

And then, shoot, I get it. I won't get 100% of what I want. They won't get 100% of what they want. But let's begin with-- we are at least putting enough resources on the table and talking about enough areas where we truly can solve the problems that America faces right now.

We do that, we're going to see real jumps in productivity in this country. Or from my perspective, even more important, we're going to see a lot more people, a lot more women, a lot more people of color, a lot more people who haven't had opportunities actually have the chance to build some real security in this country.

ANDY SERWER: And final question, Senator I can't let you go without asking you about taxes. Bills include a corporate tax hike and a tax on wealthy individuals. You've been a long-time proponent of taxing wealthier Americans. Do these provisions go far enough?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So let's talk about taxes. We need a wealth tax in America. And let me make the pitch why.

The difference between the top and the bottom in income is big. You bet it is, right? But the difference between the top and the bottom in wealth is just whole orders of magnitude bigger. And wealth can grow in effect on its own.

The wealthiest families in America-- they don't have to work. Those wealthy, wealthy, wealthy families-- they have whole armies of people that just watch out for the wealth, just tend it. They invest it.

They watch for the tax loopholes. They hire lobbyists to protect it. They buff it and shine it every day, unlike most of America that's out there working every day to bring in an income.

Why does this matter? It has given us distortions that are now accelerating. So we had a huge wealth gap in America till the pandemic hit. And then when the pandemic hit, it got a whole lot bigger.

What was the consequence of the pandemic? Millions of people lost their job, wiped out their savings, people on the edge right now of eviction or foreclosure. And we created a whole bunch more trillionaires and billionaires, right?

So I have proposed a wealth tax to set a tax on fortunes above $50 million a. Little bit more if you have a billion dollars or more in assets. That would produce $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years. And that's money you could use to create more opportunity in America.

That's more money that would cover universal child care, universal pre-K, money for K-12, money to help cancel a big chunk of student loan debt, money that we could use so that kids, after they graduate from high school, can do technical school, two-year college, four-year college, without going into debt. We can do those things if we had a wealth tax and still have trillions of left over.

Think about that. This is our chance to make the decisions as a nation. Taxes are just about choices. Do you think that the millionaires and billionaires ought to be able to keep all that money and pay lower taxes than everyone else as that money grows and grows and grows? Or do you think, $0.02 wealth tax, they don't grow it quite so fast, but we can invest in opportunity for every single one of our kids?

I want to be the America that invests in opportunity for everyone, not just for the millionaires and billionaires and even those handful of new trillionaires. I want to be the America that says, every kid here-- first-rate care, from the time they're little baby's, first-rate educational opportunities, all the way through. Because if you got that kind of opportunity, you're not only gonna build something for yourself. You'll build something amazing for this whole country.

ANDY SERWER: Elizabeth Warren, Democratic US Senator from Massachusetts and author of the new book "Persist." Thank you so much for your time.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you for having me.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencer." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.