Elizabeth Warren on why she battles corporate America: ‘Markets without rules are theft’

The battle over restrictive voting measures escalated this week in Texas, the latest state where some of the nation's largest corporations have publicly opposed further impediments for voters introduced by Republican lawmakers. 

The uproar from corporate America sets an uneasy alliance between wealthy companies and Democrats, who in Washington D.C. are seeking a corporate tax hike, strengthened environmental regulation, and other measures that put them at odds with big business.

In a new interview, progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) acknowledged that corporations have chosen her side in the fight for voting access. But she said it doesn't change her view that corporations wield too much political influence that yields them favorable laws, and in turn bolsters their influence even further. 

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, she advocated for a strong government role in markets to ensure fair competition, consumer protections, and limits on the power of large corporations.

"I am all for seeing corporations get out there [and] make a profit," she says. "I believe in competitive markets, but markets without rules are theft."

"It is powerfully important that we have a government that is independent," she adds. "That is able to regulate to make sure that markets are transparent and level and [do] not have so much corporate influence that they tilt those markets over and over and over in their favor."

"So I'm going to stay after them," adds Warren, author of a new book entitled "Persist." 

The view expressed by Warren, an ardent critic of large corporations for years who ran for president last year, overlaps with a shift in the Democratic Party reflected in the agenda of President Joe Biden.

In a primetime speech to Congress last week, Biden called on corporate America to pay its "fair share," referring to a tax hike embedded in his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that would raise the rate for corporations from 21% to 28%.

Plus, Biden proposed tax hikes on the wealthy that would pay for his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which includes universal pre-school, two years of free community college, and a host of other initiatives.

The potential corporate tax hike has drawn opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, which represent many major corporations and their CEOs. 

While Democrats and corporate America disagree over tax policy, they share common ground in an ongoing fight over restrictive voting bills introduced in statehouses nationwide.

Hundreds of major companies — including Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG, GOOGL), and BlackRock (BLK) — signed a statement last month opposing "any discriminatory legislation" that would make it more difficult for people to vote.

The move came in the aftermath of a restrictive voting law enacted by Georgia in March, and more than 350 such bills stand before legislatures across 47 states, according to a report from the Brennan Center on April 1. Critics of these laws say they would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters.

Ultimately, corporations have a vested interest in the preservation of U.S. democracy, Warren said, applauding their position but criticizing the power they carry to implement it.

"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," she says. "They want to see democracy continue to work."

"So what they're talking about, I believe, is what is in their best interest," she adds. "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," she says.

Warren spoke to Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

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 her new book, Warren argues that federal lawmakers acting at the behest of corporate wealth have produced a "corrupt system" that worsens inequality.

"A corrupt system lies at the heart of nearly everything that is broken in Washington — and everything that isn’t getting fixed across our country," she writes in "Persist." "Giant corporations and wealthy investors have learned that if they can persuade lawmakers to do their bidding, they will get even wealthier."

"Inequality is not an accident of the past four decades," she continues. "It was carefully nurtured by thousands of decisions by legislators who helped out their rich friends and let everyone else fall behind."

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