U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren: Inequality

February 11, 2022 0:52:48
Kaltura Video

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Ford School Dean Michael Barr discuss perspectives on poverty and inequality in the United States. February 11, 2022.

Transcript:

[music]

0:00:24.7 Luke Shaefer: Good afternoon, I'm Luke Shaefer, Associate Dean for Research and Policy engagement, and current professor of Social Justice and Social policy here at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, I also am director of Poverty Solutions. And I'm here live with the Ford School watch party alongside a very excited group of Michigan students, faculty and staff, and I am honored to introduce today's special Policy Talks event featuring United States Senator Elizabeth Warren. Our students at the Ford School and across campus are deeply passionate about equity and social justice, and Senator Warren is one of the nations leading voices for a more just and equitable America. In 2012, she was elected to the United States Senate by the State of Massachusetts, the first woman ever to do so. As a Senator, she has fought hard to hold our financial systems accountable and ensure our government works for everyone. She is widely credited for the original thinking, political courage and relentless persistence that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Warren also served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

0:01:41.9 LS: Without further ado, let's go ahead and give a very warm Ford School welcome to United States, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

[applause]

0:02:03.0 Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, that was really terrific, Luke, it looks like we got a fun room here.

0:02:06.3 LS: We got a great room.

0:02:08.8 SW: Oh wow.

0:02:10.4 LS: And today's function is gonna be moderated by my colleague and friend Michael Barr, Dean of the Ford School. Dean Barr's Scholarship and Policy Engagement focuses on making the financial system safer and fairer and better harnessed to the needs of the real economy. He's conducted path breaking, empirical research on the financial services needs of low-income households. He was treasuries point person on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and worked closely with Senator Warren on its passage. So let's also give a nice Ford School warm welcome to Dean Barr.

0:02:51.5 Michael Barr: Thanks so much, thanks so much Luke, I really appreciate it, it's great to see all of our students just downstairs joining us virtually. Senator, it's a delight to have you virtually here with us in our community.

0:03:05.0 SW: Thank you, Michael, thanks for having me here. It's good to see you. It has been too long.

0:03:09.5 MB: It's been far too long.

0:03:10.9 SW: I confess, I wish we could do this in person, but I'm glad we at least get to do it virtually. So, whenever you're ready, I'm ready.

0:03:19.0 MB: Awesome. Well, let me take you back a little bit, you and I met now almost 20 years ago in workshops you set up to deal with problems in the low-income financial sector, bringing academics together. Your own work for many decades academically focused on the needs of low income and middle class families, the middle class squeeze, the way in which illness or divorce or job loss might send somebody deep into poverty. And I know your own personal background, your family, the way you grew up, you had some very, very tough economic times. I'm just wondering how do these experiences, your personal experience and your academic experience play into your work now in the Senate?

0:04:08.7 SW: So thanks, that's a good question. And actually a good place for us to start. So I was born and raised in Oklahoma. I have three much older brothers, all three of them went off to the military, I was the one who came along, as it used to be called "Late in life." My mother always called me "The surprise." I was about 30 years old before I figured out what that meant but... So much of my growing up is my mom and my dad and me, and I was about 12 when my daddy had a heart attack, and it just turned our family upside down, medical debts, long period of time out of work. And my mother, who'd been a stay-at-home mom goes to work, answering the phone at Sears. And that job saved our family, and it saved our home. But here's the difference, that job was at a time when a minimum wage job in America would support a family of three. It was a time when a minimum wage job in America would pay a mortgage on a home. Today, a minimum wage job in America will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. No place in America will a minimum wage job rent a median two bedroom apartment in any city in this country and most rural areas, and that's a huge functional shift.

0:05:53.0 SW: So when my daddy had a heart attack, yeah, it was tough, and we were turned upside down but we lived in a world where you had a chance to get your feet back under you, that world is gone. And I'll put one more on that, and that is, I decided early, early on, I wanted to be a public school teacher, I wanted to teach school, I knew what I wanted to do, but it meant I had to go to college. My brothers didn't have to do that, they went off to the Military, the path back then to America's middle class. By the time I graduated from high school, my daddy was a janitor, my mom still had the job at Sears, and there was no money for college. It's a long and complicated story. I got a debate scholarship, I got married, I dropped out of school. But the key for me, is I end up at a public university that cost $50 a semester. Hey, all you students, are you listening to that?

[chuckle]

0:06:53.5 SW: $50 a whole semester. For a price you could pay for on a public... On a part-time waitressing job, I could complete a four-year diploma and become a special ed teacher, which is what I did. Again, that's just not out there today. You just can't do that. Wonderful schools like the University of Michigan, right? How much are your kids, the folks in this room, going into debt to be able to get an education that is more essential for an opportunity to make it in America's middle class than it was when I was growing up? And again, what's the difference in both of those, just picking those two. Minimum wage, the cost of post-high school education? The answer in both cases, it's just public policy. We have decided as a nation not to keep raising the minimum wage and decided as a nation to make smaller and smaller, relatively speaking, investments in public post-high school education, and that's how families just get ground up today, no matter how hard they work.

0:08:06.5 MB: I think those are just excellent points. We're gonna actually talk about kinda both halves of the things that you just described. I wanna start by thinking about the lowest income families in our society. I know that you've been really great about recommending Luke Schafer's book, $2.00 A Day, for people to read. [chuckle]

0:08:29.5 SW: I am, I'm his agent. I just go out and talk about it 'cause it's a fabulous book. In fact, I haven't just read that book once. I've actually read that book twice, and I can only say that for about three books.

0:08:41.0 MB: So it's kind of War and Peace and $2.00 A Day. [chuckle]

0:08:44.4 SW: There you go, there you go.

0:08:48.6 MB: It's a phenomenal book, but obviously a depressing book describing how hard it is for the lowest income families to get by just meeting everyday needs for shelter, for food, for clothing, for school supplies. And I was thinking about this in relation to the pandemic, which just completely crushed so many low income families, it had such differential effects in our society. The people who could least afford it got hit the worst, they got hit at work. They had to go into work in jobs that were often times unsafe, they had less access to health care, you can go on and on, but there were also some really encouraging things. We saw Congress step in, for example, with the child tax credit expansion. So I would just love your sense Senator, where are we in thinking about the needs and importance of protecting low income families? What do we need to do going forward?

0:09:53.4 SW: It's like a lot of things. There's good news and there's bad days, right? And the obvious bad news is that the pandemic both exposed an exacerbated just how hard it is at the bottom, and the racial wealth gaps that are just... They're just crushing for people. The good news is, there were a lot of folks for whom I think the pandemic began to create a shift in mindset and said, We are in this together and we need to be in this together. I like to point out, essential jobs in America, this is... I'm gonna go back two years now, right when we were all buttoned up at home before there was any vaccine, when you still couldn't even get good tests. When we weren't sure if touching door knobs was a way to get this illness, when lots and lots of folks were sick and dying. Essential jobs were not investment bankers.

[chuckle]

0:10:56.9 SW: Essential jobs were the folks who delivered your groceries, and who stocked the grocery shelves, and who kept driving the trucks to make sure that the packages made it through, the food made it through. And I was really very hopeful about what that meant, and the pandemic responses, and I wanna say this both in the latter part of the Trump administration and the first part of the Biden administration, were very strong. So you look back a year ago, and what was predicted for where the GDP would be, and it is about 50% higher in terms of the growth in GDP. Unemployment... Nobody thought unemployment was gonna get below... I think the estimate was below six points until the end of 2022, now we're down at four.

0:11:48.5 SW: Now we've got inflation to contend with, but you have to remember, partly it's because we did put the money in to support the economy. And we were in the experiment, we did the child tax credit, which is for all of you know, it's a refundable credit. Which means if you don't have money coming in, you still get the tax credit. And put it on a monthly basis, IRS stepped up and got those checks out on a monthly basis, when their initial estimate was, it would take 'em three years to have to rework their antiquated system to make that happen. But by golly, they did it, and we lifted nearly half of all children who were in poverty out of poverty. That that monthly check, it was diapers, it was new school shoes, it was the kid who got to play in the band, because now all the folks could afford the band rental instrument. That's all the good news.

0:12:51.5 SW: Now, the bad news is the Biden relief package last spring, not a single Republican voted for it, and now we don't have 50 Democrats who will vote for the child tax credit, so there's a lot of energy starting to put things together and starting to make change, but it's not as far as we need to. And I feel like on this one, there are a bunch of us who just keep looking whereas it's so obvious what we need to do, we need to invest up. I'll pick one more that I just have to mention in childcare, Right now... Somebody was telling me yesterday, I was talking to a person you would all recognize the name, [laughter] who said that he had been on a call with the CEO of Boeing, and they were talking about inflation. And second hand, the CEO said, You wanna get inflation under control, invest in childcare, I need more workers. And the part of the workforce that's just missing right now are the mamas, and the best way I can get those mamas in the door, the mamas of the little tiny children, is get us childcare, and if we do that, I can build out, I can build more capacity. And with more capacity, I can help drive prices down.

0:14:23.3 SW: It's just a straight Econ 101. But it's about investing and investing... You could look at it for our businesses, you can look at it as investing for our babies, because good childcare is where little babies pick up more vocabulary and recognize more colors, all those good things, and good for their mamas and daddies who can go get jobs and be part of a productive economy. And yet it's gotta start with government, this is government public policy, the private sector... You wanna talk about what the private... I'm gonna go forever on this, Michael, stop me if you want, but think about government versus private sector. Here's the problem we've got, across the board, parents of little children cannot afford the full cost of childcare anymore than they can afford the full cost of second grade. If we said to all parents of 7-year-olds, Hey, you guys have to come up with a [0:15:26.2] ____.

0:15:27.8 MB: It's on you. [chuckle]

0:15:28.1 SW: That's right. The teachers and the school buses and the building and the heat and the water and the electricity. No, we say, You know what, we all have an interest in getting our kids educated, so whether you have a second grader or not, you gotta pitch in some nickels based on your income to help support that. We need to do the same thing from Zero to five, and we need to do it again, good investment in children, good investment in work opportunities for their parents, because right now the private sector trying to serve this, and God bless them, I'm not mad at 'em. They work on such a thin budget that they pay their workers on average, about $12 an hour, the average childcare worker, there's a 30% annual turnover before the pandemic, because the people who do the work, mostly women, mostly women of color, can make more money if they go work at McDonald's.

0:16:34.8 SW: And the consequences, you've got people who wanna do the work, people who wanna provide childcare, but you can't squeeze the parents to bring that paycheck up to the $18 an hour, $20 an hour, whatever it is, that should be a living wage comparable to their education, you can't bring it up 'cause the parents can't afford to pay it. And that's what the public side does, that's why we invest tax payer dollars, so that we can have childcare for all of our children, make it affordable for all of our parents, get those children into high quality child care, and we will all reap the benefits. Can that childcare be private? Sure it can. Can it be public? Of course it can. Can it be for profit, not for profit? Yes, yes, yes. But we have to make the commitment at the federal level to put in the resources so we can build the system, that's how mamas have a chance to get out of poverty, that's how their children have a chance to grow up in a stable environment. So to me, it's so obvious what we should be doing, but we gotta get out there and do it.

0:17:50.3 MB: I think that's exactly right. I mean if you look... Not just as you're saying at inflation, but also at long-term economic growth for our country, we need to bring women into the workforce and we need to support young people starting at birth, that's the most important investment we can make. It'll help with inflation, it'll help grow our economy. It's the right thing to do for women. It certainly helps children. The evidence on this is overwhelming, that these investments in early childhood education make a transformative difference in the life circumstances of the people that you're affecting. And Betsy Stevenson in our faculty has written a lot about the ways in which the lack of appropriate child support, childcare are holding women back from participation in the labor market, we need women to be able to come back into the labor force if they want to.

0:18:46.5 SW: Yeah.

0:18:48.0 MB: To contribute in that way. So we've been focusing on the low end of the economic spectrum and middle class families. I wanna focus a little bit on the top next.

0:19:00.2 SW: Absolutely, it's time. I mean [laughter] Come on Michael... God, we've gotten 19 minutes into this and haven't talked about rich people.

0:19:07.5 MB: I'm now talking about rich people, and I'm gonna ask you about them. [chuckle] So we have the huge concentrations of wealth and power in our society, you know that the top five banks have half the assets of the banking system, big tech controls all of our consumer data, we have in terms of high income family, the top 1%, holds nearly 40% of all wealth in our society. So how did we get here and what should we be doing about it?

0:19:38.9 SW: So let me give you two thoughts about it, one is we need a wealth tax in America [chuckle]

0:19:45.3 SW: And I really wanna underscore this for people, we have all lived in a system where at the federal level, it's all income tax, so whatever your paycheck is every month, and for years, it worked fine. But what has now happened is that the concentration of wealth, the wealth it self-grows, you don't have to have any income, you don't have to do any work that actually produces a pay check, once you get a big enough... Once your snowball gets big enough, it just keeps rolling down hill and getting bigger and bigger, so that the wealthiest get more and more wealthy. By the way, when you talked about how hard it was for the least well-off in our country during the pandemic, don't cry for everybody. The 745 or so trillionaires, billionaires, they did great. The group at the top got so much richer during the pandemic, partly because they were in the right businesses, partly because they had the money to invest, to buy low, sell high, every part of this, and they figured out the trick. So Jeff Bezos, just to pick an example, you know much he pays in taxes? Basically, pretty much nothing.

0:21:11.2 SW: How does he do that? 'Cause he obviously lives a pretty fancy lifestyle, right, he's built the super yacht that's so big, they're gonna have to tear down a bridge in Norway to get it out of the builder's yard. He could go into outer space. He's learned this tax trick of he never takes income, he just borrows against his stock and can continue to do that forever and never pay taxes. Elon Musk this year is paying taxes 'cause he actually sold some stock because he was required to under some other agreement he already had, but for years 2018, actually, we've seen his tax return, zero in taxes, think about that. Every nurse who pay taxes, every public school teacher, every firefighter, every janitor, everyone one of them paid more taxes than Elon Musk, paid more taxes than Jeff Bezos. That is a fundamentally broken system when the very wealthiest can keep growing their wealth while everybody else is paying taxes on their income. So I wanna underscore this because you all are gonna be the ones out on the front line to make the decision that it is not enough to focus on income and taxing income, we need to tax wealth.

0:22:32.6 SW: And by the way, anybody who owns a home or grew up in a family that owns a home, you've been paying a wealth tax all along, it's just called a property tax. Only the difference is, middle class families have been doing that for a long time. The wealthy say they are different and they should not have to pay a tax on their yachts, and their diamonds, and their cash, and their stock, and so on. So that's one piece. Second piece I wanna mention, 'cause I think it's related to this, we've got a corruption problem in America, and it's a problem that has seeped all the way through government, and it's the influence of money. So that we build a democracy on the idea... Well, kind of the idea of one person, one vote, obviously, we had been parts of that, not a person of color, not a woman, tried to change that over time. But the Supreme Court opened the flood gates for money in politics, and it's both, the money is contributions, but it's also the money that's just spent on lobbyists, they outnumber us. Their staffs are way better paid than our staffs are paid. The revolving door that I talk about a lot is from Wall Street to the Treasury Department, back to Wall Street, Wall Street to the Federal Reserve Bank, back to Wall Street.

0:24:04.9 SW: So when these guys are in government, are they working for their former and future employers, or are they working for themselves? This is a question, we just gotta keep looking and virtually no restrictions on this. So all the way through the system, we've got the problem that an ever smaller group controls more and more money, and they have more and more political power, and that in turn lets them expand their wealth even more. So monopolies, just today, talking about the meat packing industry, back when... Remember the muckraking, and Teddy Roosevelt, and so on, the big four had a concentration of about 50% of all the meat that was sold in America. Today, it's up in the 80s. And guess what, they have increased their profits, increase their profit margin, and they say, oh my goodness, inflation, well, we just have to get in there and push our prices up, push our price is up.

0:25:20.1 SW: Teddy Roosevelt attacked the big monopolies, and his argument, I've always loved this, it was not about markets, we know that they keep markets from working well, you know What his argument was? It was Political power. He said, you've got to break them up because they have too much political power. If they get concentrated, they come to own the government, and once they own the government, you don't have a check against them, you've got them captured, and then the government keeps advancing rules that or failing to enforce anti-trust rules, so that they can just get bigger and bigger and bigger, and I think that's where we are in this moment. So wealth tax, anti-corruption, and enforce the anti-trust rules are all kind of to me, a big part of what we ought to be doing here.

0:26:12.6 MB: Yeah, I think looking back to the days when you and I were fighting for the CFPB or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the amount of lobbying power that was rained down on that process was really extraordinary and disturbing.

0:26:30.2 SW: Yeah, very disturbing. Michael, I remember 'cause I was an academic, never thought I was gonna be in politics. And this is... I used to fly down to Washington and spend the day basically going around and knocking on doors, would people talk to me? Congressmen, senators and it was... I would go in sometimes, more than once into somebody's little waiting room, it would be me, or maybe me and Dan Geldon, who's worked with me a long time. And there would be 12 people who were also there to see the congress woman. And one of the differences... And not only the 12, they were backed up, back in the office by another 24 who knew what she'd voted on and knew what she'd worked on and knew how long she'd been there and had made political contributions, and every piece of this. And they were there to say, "I'm sorry, we just really can't do a consumer agency, don't need it, the entire world would come to an end if we had it." And I just thought, "This isn't a fair fight." I really saw what that is like to get in that fight early on. And believe me, that was what? 2008, 2009, 2010. It has not gotten better, it's gotten a lot worse.

0:28:07.1 MB: I wonder... I'm gonna ask you one last question...

0:28:08.5 SW: Sure.

0:28:08.6 MB: And then invite a couple of students to join us and then we'll have a little bit of a dialogue. But as I think I recall, you voted for President Ford, our namesake a long time ago.

0:28:23.1 SW: Mm-hmm.

0:28:23.7 MB: It was kind of a different world for Democrats and Republicans then. Today we live in a very divisive political environment, there's huge polarization. How do you think that we can overcome this kind of divide we have in our society and actually figure out how to get stuff done together, whether that's the Child Tax Credit expansion or other investments that we need in our future dealing with climate, how are we gonna ever bridge these just enormous polarized divides that we have right now in Washington and in our society, more generally?

0:29:02.5 SW: So I'll give you two answers to that. The first one is get rid of the filibuster, our founders did not put it in the constitution, they considered making it super majority before you could get something through the Senate and in fact did. They said "If you actually wanna go ahead and convict a president on an impeachment charge, you've gotta have a super majority and if you wanna pass a treaty," because it supersedes all other federal and state law, you have to have a super majority. Okay, I get that.

0:29:35.8 SW: But my view is, get rid of the filibuster. And I say that because the filibuster so rewards the minority just having exactly one word, "No." Whatever you want no. But we, "Nope, no, no, no, no, no." It does not encourage sides to come together. It encourages sides to pull... In my view, to pull further apart. And I know folks say to me, "Yeah, easy for you to say that you wanna get rid of the filibuster 'cause your party's in the majority right now." Although, ha-ha. It's the skinniest majority you've ever seen but I'll live with that. I actually will and I will for two reasons, one, is there's actually an asymmetry right now on the filibuster.

0:30:22.9 SW: So I think of it in terms of, "What do the Republicans wanna do? And what do the Democrats wanna do?" Well, the Democrats, we wanna do gun safety reform, we wanna do immigration reform, we wanna do college... At least a bunch of us do on how to better support our public colleges, we could put student debt on that one, we wanna pass a law to protect Roe versus Wade at the federal level. So we got a lot of things, we wanna do every one of those things that I just mentioned, filibuster, you can filibuster them. So you gotta have 60 votes to get it done, which means on a lot of them we don't even take them to the floor to vote on them because the other side just, "No. Nope, not a snowballs chance in hell, that's gonna happen." Okay, what do the Republicans actually wanna do? Cut taxes and appoint judges, and in my view, extremist... Out of the mainstream judges, that's the two things they stay focused on, neither one of those is subject to a filibuster. So we have this peculiar, asymmetry where the stuff that we run on and fight for we can't get through.

0:31:40.0 SW: In addition to that, this is what democracy's about. I get it. If the majority in congress says, "Nope, we're gonna take away a woman's right to have access to an abortion across this country, we're gonna completely outlaw it." My view is, "Alright, if you've got the votes for that and you wanna step up and do it, and then let's see what happens in the next election because that's not where the American people are." I think this is about believing in democracy, and I do believe in democracy, and I get it, I will win some things and I will lose other things, but I would rather have that fight going on, putting those issues in front of the American people to make that happen.

0:32:28.6 SW: Now, I have to say there's one foundational piece that underlies this, and that is every American citizen has a right to vote and has a right to get that vote counted. If you're not getting your right to vote and you're not getting to count that vote, if there's any question on that then obviously, the whole rest of the structure breaks down, but if everybody's gonna get a right to vote, get rid of the filibuster. And now let the majority put up what they want, let us try to push it through and let us try to work together. And when we're not in the majority, let us see if we can work with you. And if you wanna pass a bunch of extremist stuff and then go back and face the electorate over it, I'm ready, I'm ready for that fight, that's what I'd like to see us do.

0:33:13.2 MB: Thanks, senator. Let me now broaden our conversation, I'm gonna invite into the room a couple of wonderful Ford School students, Crystal Alalde Garcia, who is a Master's of Public Policy student, and an undergraduate senior in our BA program in public policy, Janani Egande, and I'm really happy to have Crystal and Janani here and having us join the conversation and maybe let me ask Crystal to get us started and then I'll turn things over from there.

0:33:43.8 Crystal Garcia: Yeah, Senator Warren, thank you so much for being here today and talking with us, I really enjoyed hearing everything that you had to say about the factors contributing to inequality such as the wealth tax, the child credit tax, as well as the lack of the investment from the federal government. And so I'm about to be the first of my family to graduate from a master's degree, and one of the reasons I pursued a higher education degree was to increase the chance of income mobility, at the same time there's a call to serve and a call to support society and to strive for a better society for everyone, and so how can we better diversify the public sector without compromising income mobility because currently the public sector pay so much less.

0:34:34.2 SW: Boy, Crystal. What a fabulous question. And you put your finger right on it. It's a pay issue. I'm pushing for higher pay right now for congressional staff through the appropriations process. My anti-corruption work is about paying staff more, because if staff get paid more then they really can make a long-term investment, and they don't have to say, Okay, I'm gonna go sacrifice for two years and then go to K Street and make up the difference by working for a lobbying firm for the next 30 years or whatever it is. But here's what I wanna say, really underscore, you know this is deliberate, you know that the fact that Washington staffers don't get paid much is a deliberate policy choice, and it is not a, "Oh, we are just the most parsimonious people you've ever met, take a look at some of our defense contracts, if you think we're the most parsimonious people you ever met."

0:35:38.8 SW: No, it really is a small staff that is poorly paid is a staff that turns over fast, it's a staff that makes it harder to support the member, the principal, the senator or the representative on the issues they wanna dig into, it makes them reliant on the interest groups and the lobbyists who walk in the door and say, Oh, here's a position paper, here are the talking points. So I think that as part of the push against corruption in our government, I just can't tell you how glad I am you raised this, because part of it needs to be paying our federal employees and particularly our legislative staff, a salary that is commensurate with their responsibilities and to make these good, decent career jobs for the people who wanna stay. Now, I wanna have a lot of movement so young people can come in. And I'll say one other thing about this Crystal, when I first went to the Senate, lots of people sent in their resumes and said I wanna be an intern, and I thought, man, great, so we took in a bunch of interns, loved it, but it was really nice 'cause I have... No, whining on the yard, we have a nice budget, but it's not nearly as nice as it should be.

0:37:11.0 SW: I didn't have to use any money, we get a lot of work done. I didn't pay my interns, and it took me a couple of clicks to think, Oh, so who can afford to be my intern? Somebody whose family can support you in that process, and I got rid of unpaid interns, I won't take an unpaid intern anymore. It means I have fewer interns and it means I gotta squeeze the budget in some other places, money that I could have spent on full-time year-round staff, but that really is the heart of what's going on here. So, how about you and I partner up in this one, and we gotta raise the wages, make this work better. It is a part of making our government work.

0:37:52.6 CG: I'm all in, thank you so much.

0:37:56.6 SW: Good, thank you, Crystal.

0:38:01.2 MB: Janani, do you want to ask a question at this point?

0:38:02.9 Janani Egande: Yeah, thanks so much for that answer. That's really heartening to hear that you feel that way, and hopefully things change. But my question, I'm from Massachusetts...

0:38:13.6 SW: Yay, where in Massachusetts?

0:38:14.6 JE: I'm from Wayland, like [0:38:16.0] ____.

0:38:17.5 SW: Oh yeah. Alright.

0:38:23.0 JE: Yeah, yeah. But yeah, I was fortunate enough to get a great public school education from Wayland, and not everyone has that same opportunity because it's so dependent on where you live and how much money your family makes and how much your school is getting in taxes. So, do you have any thoughts or ideas about how we could help fix that and improve K through 12 education everywhere?

0:38:44.4 SW: Well, look, my view on the wealth tax, I did the wealth tax because partly these guys are just freeloading and you can't build an economy that works, you can't have a government that works when they're freeloading. But I will say to you, I actually had a plan for what to do with the money. I just tell everybody, if we did a $0.02 wealth tax for everybody that has more than $50 million in assets, so it's $0.02 a year on the amount above $50 million, first $50 million free and clear, but above that, you gotta pay $0.02 on every $1 above that, we would have enough money to do universal child care for every child in this country, universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America, raise the wages of every child care worker and pre-school teacher in America, fully fund IDEA for K-12, which we have never ever done, quadruple the funding for Title 1 schools, which we have never done.

0:39:53.3 SW: Give a million-dollar grant to every single public school, and call them excellent grants. "Figure out what you need most. Do you wanna hire some more science teachers, do you want equipment, do you wanna rebuild your playground, and your outdoor facilities? What do you wanna do?" Give 'em money to let them invest in their schools. I'm not through yet. That same two cents covers all of that, and would permit us to provide... To cancel $50,000 of student loan debt, for anyone who's got student loan debt. I'm trying to figure the fact. It would let us put about $50 billion into historically Black and minority-serving institutions, and it would let us provide tuition-free college for all of our public colleges and universities.

0:40:53.4 SW: Now, I know you just asked me about K-12, but I'm saying it's the whole thing. And that's what a wealth tax will do, and by the way, if we did that, we'd still have money left over. So you can spend it however you want, you could pay down the debt, if that's what you think is the most important thing you could do, you can build roads and bridges. That's what a $0.02 wealth tax does, and think about all the range of services.

0:41:15.3 SW: The second thing I wanna say though is just kind of a conceptual policy thing. About your question, Janani, we have taken K-12 as this is up to your town. And I'm glad your town gave you a first-rate education, and in Massachusetts, frankly, we do better than most places, to say we're actually gonna take some money from all around the state and spread it around a little to make sure that we bring up the schools that have the fewest resources. But the bottom line on the consequences of how we fund the public education, K-12, today, is the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. If you start out in a town, in a district that doesn't have a lot of resources, then your kids do worse, and the data on this nationally are just overwhelming, and those are just proportionately, again, communities of color, children who have teachers who have less experience, children who have teachers who are paid less, children who have school books that are older, children who are learning in school buildings that are older, just every metric you can put in place. And that is because we have, since the beginning of time, seen this as a collective responsibility, but only of this tiny little group, your town, or maybe, maybe, maybe in very progressive places like Massachusetts, somewhat your state.

0:42:57.3 SW: This is a national obligation. And I'm all for how school boards figure out when they wanna start school, and when they wanna end it, and what kind of things they want the kids to learn, but we need to think about the things we need to do collectively. Dean Barr mentioned much earlier in this, he was talking about the investment in children. Think about it, if you were running a country like you ran a business, you'd ask yourself, what is the most valuable single thing we have? And the answer would be your human beings. What can we do for our human beings? We can educate them, that is make sure they're well-fed, make sure they're safely housed, and make sure they receive the medical care they need, and that they can get a first-rate education. When you make that investment in education, it doesn't just pay off for the people who get the education, it pays off for all of us.

0:43:56.6 SW: There are some wonderful studies... And it's been too long since I read 'em, so I'm gonna forget the exact numbers, but they tracked... You remember... You've read about the GI Bill? When soldiers returned after World War II, and a grateful nation said, "You wanna go back to school, technical school, two-year college, four-year college? We'll pay a big chunk of that." They then tracked what the consequence was, and how much those people did well, how much more they then paid in taxes and put back in, and how much it drove up GDP, because productivity went up. If you can do that for guys when they're as old as 26, and 28, and 30, think about if you make those investments for seven-year-olds, and nine-year-olds, your point about K-12, or if you make those investments for one-year-olds, and three-year-olds, my point about child care, and pre-K. And yet, the billionaires are not evenly spread among our communities. So if we wanna make this work as a nation, we have to see that we're in it together, as a nation.

0:45:11.3 SW: Look, right now my taxes support a highway in South Dakota. I have not driven on that highway, I may never drive on that highway, that is the Interstate Highway System. Because we say, "You know what? We're all better off if all these highways link together across the nation, and you can move goods and services, and people can travel," right? We make that investment and think we are so smart to make investments that help create the potential to make us all richer. Well, I have an interest in a child in South Dakota getting a good education as much as I have an interest in a highway in South Dakota. And that's the underlying part for me here, it's to think through not just what government policy should be, which I'm all for, but to think through what part of government, and at its core, what drives us. And I think what should drive us is the investment in us that lets us create a future with more opportunities. So...

0:46:23.0 SW: Like I said, I was a public school teacher, I taught special needs kids who were four years old to six years old in a public school. I believe in our public schools, but it's not enough to stand around and applaud our teachers and send in a cute little mug at the end of the school year. We need to put our money where our mouth is, and we wanna have smart kids who are well educated in the future, then we need to make those investments right now, in our schools, in our children. So I'm ready to do that one too, Janani. Are you ready to go with me on it?

0:47:06.0 JE: Oh, absolutely.

0:47:08.7 SW: Good, good.

0:47:11.1 MB: So I think I'm gonna... Senator, ask you one more question, but I wanted to see before I did, if you might have a question for Janani or Crystal.

0:47:20.6 SW: So my question is, what are you gonna do after you finish this program?

0:47:29.1 CG: That's a great question, and I'm still figuring that out as well. I really enjoyed the passion that you just had when talking about education, that's my background, I worked in education for five years prior to coming here to Ford. I am planning to move back to Texas, so seeking job opportunities there, and I know there's a lot of need as well there for just social policy, and so looking forward to joining the fight there.

0:47:58.0 SW: Good for you. And Janani, what about you? What are you gonna do?

0:48:01.3 JE: Yeah, I'm also not sure yet. But I think I wanna work on a campaign right after, so I'm thinking of... Yeah, I'm thinking of going with Stacey Abrams, so we'll see. And then after that, I don't really know, it depends on how much I like campaigning or maybe I'll go back and do more policy type of work, but still looking.

0:48:24.5 SW: Good for you. Good for you.

0:48:26.9 MB: So here's the final question, Senator. I was thinking back when we were getting ready for this conversation. During the Dodd-Frank process, when you came down to DC, you and I would go out to dinner and we'd kinda compare notes and think about strategy for getting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau across the finish line in one piece. And I remember one of these nights, I don't know if you'll remember this, but one of these nights we were sitting outside at a restaurant, and a young girl came up to our table, she was maybe 10 years old, wearing this beautiful green sari. And she came over to the table a little bit shyly, and she looked over at you and she said, "You're the one who's gonna bring the change, you're the one who's gonna bring the change." And when you see Crystal and Janani here and you're seeing our students in the auditorium, I'm wondering if you have advice for them as they're thinking about the path they're gonna go on, how are they gonna bring the change that we all need.

0:49:35.3 SW: So, I love hearing about what you're gonna do, it's why I asked. Because you have power, you have real skills, you finished this program, you know a lot of stuff that a lot of other people don't know. And how you use it is up to you. You could use it quite profitably, helping clients who are already rich, you can help people who are already powerful get richer and more powerful. It is your life, it's your choices. But my own advice is to respectfully ask you to consider other paths where the need is great. And I ask you to consider those paths precisely because you have so much to offer. Consider a life that is open to public service, open to taking on the troubles that are bearing down upon us, open to tackling the crises that are continuing to unfold, the crises that we may not even know about yet. It takes real courage to step off the path that you've laid out for yourself. Think about government service, think about non-profits, think about NGOs, think about taking a chance, think about trying something different, think about trying something big. I thought my path was all laid out for me. When you and I... At least up to about a year before you and I had that dinner, Michael, I was gonna be a teacher.

0:51:23.8 SW: I thought at first that I was gonna be a special ed teacher, and then later a law teacher. But there was a big need, the door was open, and I just stepped through it, not knowing for sure what was going to be on the other side. I confess, Janani, when you say you don't know what you're gonna do, you're gonna kinda have a short-term plan and then not sure beyond that, I love it. Because you gotta be open to all the things that are out there. So the best I can say is, have courage, take a risk, because our nation and our world need you all, and we need you now. So, thanks for having me here.

0:52:13.4 MB: Senator, it's been a real delight and an honor and a privilege to have you here. Crystal and Janani, thanks so much for being here, and I really appreciated your questions as well, and I hope all of you who are listening to this video around the world enjoyed today's conversation with the Ford School, the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions, and the University of Michigan's democracy and debate initiatives. Just really terrific to have you here. Thank you so much and good night, everybody.

0:52:42.2 CG: Thank you.