Paul Krugman: Idea that Climate Change Requires Austere Back-to-Nature Lifestyle

60:42
thank you what is the most persistent
60:45
zombie idea on the left and is there one
60:47
is there an idea to what you have
60:50
subscribed in the past which you now
60:51
kind of put into that category oh boy I
60:55
mean the trend the left is not nearly as
60:58
good at maintaining zombie ideas partly
61:03
because there there are in fact not that
61:07
many leftist billionaires and and
61:09
billionaires there are some but not very
61:12
leftist and so I mean well let me put
61:20
this way we were talking about climate
61:22
and environment and and climate change
61:25
and economic growth I’m running to a lot
61:27
of people still who are now this is
61:30
telling you that there I don’t think
61:31
there are a large part of the electorate
61:33
but there are
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but the circles I move in I run into
61:36
people who are sure that to fight
61:39
climate change we have to stop living
61:41
the way we’re living and a much more
61:43
austere back-to-nature lifestyle is the
61:47
only way to deal with climate and that’s
61:49
an idea that it’s just clearly wrong if
61:53
we actually asked by we know enough
61:55
about the technological and economic
61:57
solution to climate change that ASUS a
62:00
green society that does not burden the
62:02
planet would almost certainly be a
62:04
society that looks a whole lot like what
62:06
we have now in people with the driving
62:08
cars they’d be using electricity but the
62:10
cars with the electric and the
62:12
electricity would be generated by solar
62:13
and wind and it but the actual rhythm of
62:16
daily life could look very much like
62:18
what we we have we don’t have to go back
62:20
to to an agrarian pastoral Eden to to to
62:25
deal with the issue but it’s it’s
62:26
something that sounds again it sounds
62:29
serious from a different point of view
62:30
it sounds like if you’re serious about
62:31
climate change you must be serious and
62:34
believing that we have to give up on
62:35
this consumer oriented society and and
62:38
all of these these comforts that we take
62:40
for granted but in fact it’s not true so
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that would here that would be an example
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of a kind of a left-wing zombie in other
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countries in the belief that you can
62:49
just dictate all prices and you know you
62:53
can put price controls on everything and
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not and never face shortages that’s not
62:58
something we see in the US but they
62:59
Venezuela clearly there’s some refusal
63:02
to face reality going on but that would
63:05
be these house but again zombies mostly
63:08
flourished because their big money
63:10
behind them not all of them but mostly
63:12
and and and the no.4 for every George
63:17
Soros there are 50 quiet billionaires
63:21
supporting extremely reactionary causes
63:23
and what about the question the question
63:25
of an idea you’ve changed your mind oh
63:27
so most of my changes have been in the
63:33
in the other direction look at minimum
63:36
wages no no a piece of economic research
63:41
has has shaken my views as much
63:46
actually I’m gonna give you two and and
63:50
me at this this is a great risk of
63:52
turning into a Monty Python routine
63:54
amongst the issues three okay so
64:00
actually so I’ll give you two one
64:01
minimum wages up until sometime in the
64:05
mid 1990s I believe that clearly
64:09
increases in minimum wages would cost
64:11
jobs they might be desirable otherwise
64:13
but econ 101 said that that’s what
64:15
happened and then we got this amazing
64:17
body of empirical research because we
64:19
get in the United States we get a lot of
64:21
natural experiments when one state
64:22
raises its minimum wage and the
64:24
neighboring state does not and the
64:26
overwhelming evidence says that minimum
64:28
wage increases at least within the range
64:30
we see in the US do not cost jobs and
64:33
that changed my view has said labor
64:34
markets are very different from where I
64:35
thought it actually moved me towards
64:38
emphasizing the role of power and in
64:40
labor relations and so on another one I
64:43
used to think that it was always
64:44
possible just by printing money to get
64:47
full employment and and the experience
64:50
of Japan in the late 1990s when despite
64:54
a very easy monetary policy they slid
64:56
into deflation changed my views totally
65:00
I there was a there was a group of us
65:03
actually of when I when I arrived at
65:05
Princeton in 2000 was a bunch of Japan
65:07
warriors who were really very shaken by
65:10
the Japanese experience because we we
65:12
looked at it said you know this could
65:13
happen to us so with me people you
65:16
wouldn’t have heard of but very
65:17
influential in the professional arts
65:18
Vince and Mike Woodford and the fourth
65:21
was Bernanke Ben Bernanke don’t know
65:24
what happened to him he disappeared I
65:26
think yeah so we so that but no the the
65:31
Japanese Japan’s Lost Decade
65:33
changed my view and basically made me
65:36
much more Keynesian much more believer
65:38
that there are times when you really
65:40
need to have the government do the
65:41
spending yes how do you successfully
65:45
regulate the financial markets while not
65:50
scaring the business community in sort
65:53
of trying to
65:55
in the middle of a class that any form
65:58
of common sense reform or tax is not
66:01
Marxist Leninist and it’s not going to
66:03
take away all their assets and money
66:05
okay you know we’ve done this before
66:10
right we imposed extensive bank
66:14
regulation in the 30s which didn’t
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obviously cripple the economy we the
66:19
post-war generation was was the best
66:22
generation in in in certainly in US
66:24
economic history the the the only I
66:29
would say the problem is not scaring
66:31
people not looking Marxist the problem
66:33
with regulating financial markets is
66:35
first of all they’re the financiers have
66:39
a lot of clout but but beyond that it is
66:45
hard to keep up with financial
66:49
innovation which very often is not
66:53
innovating in the sense of you know
66:55
doing things better but as is innovating
66:58
a way of finding ways to set things up
67:01
that evade the regulations so you
67:04
regulate banks and then people create
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something that is functionally a bank
67:07
but doesn’t technically meet the
67:09
definition of a bank and evades the
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regulations it’s hard to keep up with
67:13
that and and if it’s not a well solved
67:16
problem in the we had a significant
67:21
financial reform in the US under Obama
67:24
not everything you I would have wanted
67:26
but it was significant but on many of
67:29
the issues it depends upon this
67:31
Financial Stability Council which has to
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define systemic lis important
67:37
institutions that they’re mean and
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there’s no clear definition it’s kind of
67:43
like pornography you know when you see
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it which is not a stupid way to do it
67:47
but it depends upon having honest people
67:51
of goodwill in charge and now we have
67:55
the Trump administration so so the
67:58
dodd-frank is not a very effective tool
68:00
and it always depended upon upon good
68:04
leadership and
68:06
we have not found I haven’t come up with
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a way to the thing about doing a regular
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old-fashioned commercial banks is that
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that system works the regulations work
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the the guarantees work without
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requiring that there be smart leadership
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or good judgment calls at the top and
68:25
unfortunately everything we try to do to
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deal with more modern financial
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institutions is requires both goodwill
68:34
and sophistication which are both the
68:36
now and very short supply question from
68:39
the balcony please thanks very much so
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we’ve mostly discussed zombi ideas in
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the kind of domestic policy context i
68:45
wanted to ask about zombie ideas in the
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international context in the sense of
68:50
the Washington Consensus and trade
68:51
liberalization and specifically I want
68:54
to ask what your thoughts are on the
68:56
extent to which countries can still
68:58
develop by exporting I has the impact of
69:02
technology and the scale of China made
69:06
it essentially impossible for a trade
69:07
liberalization to facilitate development
69:10
okay that’s a good question
69:13
I think empirically it’s just the
69:16
premise is wrong so we all know about
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China and we know that China occupies
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this huge space and China is a unique
69:25
success story nobody else has matched
69:27
their rates of growth but it’s not the
69:31
only success story so when I took I like
69:34
to talk about the the unfamiliar cases
69:39
Bangladesh Bangladesh is a desperately
69:43
poor country and and compared with
69:46
working conditions and in in the first
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world it’s it’s is horrible and they
69:51
have factories that collapse and kill
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hundreds of workers and all of that but
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Bangladesh is actually they’ve they’ve
69:59
tripled their per capita income and
70:03
there there are very poor country but
70:06
they were a country that was right on
70:07
the edge of Malthusian starvation and
70:11
it’s all because of the ability to
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export if the the ability basically
70:17
clothing labor-intensive
70:19
that they’ve been steadily gaining
70:21
market share at China’s expense because
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China has been moving upscale and that’s
70:26
that’s showing that you can get yeah
70:28
that’s that’s major development that’s a
70:29
major change it’s it’s not it’s a long
70:32
way from from turning into into Western
70:35
Europe but it’s it’s it’s a very big
70:37
deal and it’s showing that the
70:39
globalization can still work for for
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poor countries so I that’s that’s what
70:45
the line Bangladesh is not a it’s not a
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banana republic it’s a pajama republic
70:51
but but that you know they can make fun
70:54
of it but in fact their use that’s a
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very large number of people who are
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lifted at least some ways above
71:00
starvation level by globalization and
71:03
another question from the balcony please
71:06
looking at it as a economist with a
71:08
mathematical mind what impact do you
71:11
think a shift a proportional
71:12
representation would have over time as
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you compared to the electoral colleges
71:18
and first-past-the-post which we have in
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the UK other British Commonwealth
71:22
countries which tend to over time have
71:24
led to two party states so what if we
71:26
shifted the proportional representation
71:28
okay I mean firstly the u.s. the the
71:33
u.s. electoral college system is
71:35
monstrosity that’s a that’s not about
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first-past-the-post it’s about a system
71:40
that at the presidential level gives
71:42
disproportionate representation to to
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some states with small populations and
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at even more important we have the
71:50
Senate which where half the Senators are
71:53
elected by 16 percent of the population
71:55
so this is a that that’s crazy
71:58
that’s a deeply basically we’ve we’ve
72:00
evolved into a rotten borough system for
72:03
half of the US government and that’s
72:05
that’s a clear monstrosity as for the
72:08
rest I mean I don’t know I mean this is
72:13
not I’m not a political scientist I talk
72:16
to political scientists which by the way
72:18
is rare for economists we actually talk
72:20
I actually talk to these goods to other
72:21
social sciences and take them seriously
72:24
and but what I would say is that the the
72:29
there are places with proportional
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representation
72:32
that also managed to be very
72:34
dysfunctional so you know Israel I
72:38
believe has proportional representation
72:39
and I would not say that Israeli
72:44
politics these past 15 years have been a
72:47
model of good ideas and wisdom
72:50
prevailing in fact they I mean every
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system has its problems and one of the
72:54
problems with proportional
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representation is it sometimes causes
72:57
small factional parties with with very
73:01
antisocial goals to to be kingmakers so
73:06
that’s not an easy solution either I
73:08
don’t really know what the answer is
73:10
except to say that that you know people
73:13
people are both generally clever and
73:19
often nasty and they can find a way to
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screw up any system question trip down
73:24
here hi
73:25
you said earlier that the American
73:26
economy is in a pretty strong position
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so I was wondering how much he thought
73:30
Trump could legitimately claim
73:32
responsibility for that and then
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alongside that what are the strong II
73:35
cannot strongest economic arguments to
73:37
voters for voting against him okay the
73:41
reason that we’re in a relatively strong
73:43
economic position is that it’s basically
73:47
deficit spending after years and years
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of saying no debt this is an existential
73:52
threat then we must have austerity which
73:54
really hobbled the US recovery under
73:58
Obama as soon as Trump was in office for
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Republicans said oh we don’t care about
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that I mean the last two State of the
74:04
Union speeches have not so much as
74:06
mentioned the deficit and that even
74:09
though it’s badly done it does give a
74:13
boost to demand so I guess you could say
74:16
the Trump has gets some credit in the
74:19
sense that by getting elected he caused
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congressional Republicans to stop
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sabotaging the economy that’s not a you
74:27
know vote Republican and and and and the
74:29
and the economy won’t be undermined by
74:31
by our sabotage efforts so that’s not a
74:34
great electoral slogan but it might win
74:36
in the election I have to say and I lost
74:40
the room what the rest of that was but
74:42
the
74:44
was one of the strong strongest economic
74:46
arguments to voters to vote against him
74:48
oh the thing about Trump is that he’s
74:50
managed to preside over a economy that
74:55
by sort of aggregate measures
74:58
unemployment rate is low GDP growth has
75:02
been pretty good not spectacular but
75:04
pretty good but which is is showing
75:08
increased hardship for many people
75:11
despite that I mean we were making huge
75:13
progress in reducing the number of
75:15
people without health insurance that has
75:17
now gone into reverse the number of
75:19
people who say that their that they are
75:23
that they are postponing or not
75:27
undertaking necessary medical treatment
75:29
because of expense has skyrocketed
75:32
and the America like the UK there’s
75:38
tremendous regional divergence we have a
75:43
large part of the large parts of the the
75:47
heartland which are in severe economic
75:50
decline as social collapse and that has
75:53
just accelerated you know despite the
75:55
low overall unemployment rate the state
75:58
of affairs in Eastern Kentucky is
76:01
terrible and life expectancy I guess it
76:06
rose slightly this past year but you
76:07
know mortality rates are rising and it’s
76:11
as in case an Angus Deaton say deaths of
76:14
despair people dying from from opioids
76:19
alcohol and suicide have been rising
76:22
despite the strong economy so this is
76:25
actually that earlier question about GDP
76:27
you know the GDP growth not saying that
76:31
the that it’s false but under under the
76:34
surface of that good GDP growth is
76:36
actually a substantial increase in
76:38
misery just a one final question from
76:43
thanks bull great to see you here my
76:48
question is about the u.s. minimum wage
76:50
obviously it’s very very low compared
76:53
it should be you know from visiting the
76:55
US for last 25 years it seems P and
76:57
getting no three jobs to make ends meet
77:00
what do you think the minimum wage
77:02
should be and one of the reasons other
77:05
than you know losing jobs that perhaps
77:07
people have been keeping it down the
77:09
minimum wage suppressed oh so I asked
77:12
that in Reverse I mean the reason the
77:14
minimum wage has been held down is
77:15
because employers want chief labor and
77:20
they have a lot of clout the question of
77:24
how high to go is an interesting one
77:26
and it’s the so even the the big move in
77:34
the u.s. is for $15 and that’s a I’d say
77:39
even $15 an hour even Alan Krueger who
77:43
was one of the key researchers on that
77:45
revelatory work was a little nervous
77:48
about 15 and that the problem is
77:52
regional the the state of New York the
77:55
state of California no problem you have
77:58
a $15 minimum wage and and there’s
78:00
absolutely no reason to think that
78:02
that’s economic difficulty we’re talking
78:05
about Mississippi or Alabama places with
78:08
much lower productivity you might start
78:10
to have some job loss at that level I
78:12
think that the preponderance of the
78:14
evidence says that $15 is okay that
78:18
there might be some minor job loss in
78:21
some of the least productive parts of
78:22
the US but but overall not a big deal I
78:26
think 20 I would start to make me really
78:28
nervous
78:29
that then you start to really be a
78:30
problem in in potentially problematic
78:33
territory but it’s it’s why they see
78:36
actually in this case I think a federal
78:38
minimum wage of 15 and then higher wages
78:40
and in in in appropriate States it makes
78:44
sense this is one of these cases where
78:45
federalism works to our advantage and
78:47
and it’s interesting by the way Alan
78:49
Krueger did do at one point he he went
78:52
to to Puerto Rico which part of the u.s.
78:55
is subject to the u.s. minimum wage and
78:57
much lower productivity and said there
78:59
we should be able to see clear evidence
79:01
that the minimum wage cost jobs and he
79:03
couldn’t find it he said I don’t really
79:05
believe this by
79:06
I can’t find the evidence so so for the
79:09
moment I say let’s let’s go for 15 and
79:11
see what happens and then maybe maybe
79:15
look for the high productivity states to
79:20
to go beyond that great I’m so sorry to
79:24
have to draw it to a conclusion but you
79:27
will have the opportunity to meet ball
79:29
and and get the book signed for now
79:32
please join me in thanking him for
79:34
really fascinating today all right

Democratic Donors Have Their Candidate

With Obama’s blessing, the party establishment, including its big money, has gone all in on Biden.

When Joe Biden was declared the big winner in South Carolina, you could hear Democratic donors from Manhattan to Malibu crying for joy. Buoyed by glowing, round-the-clock media coverage of his weekend blowout, Mr. Biden made an impressive showing on Super Tuesday. With the former vice president resurgent, the Democratic establishment now has an unexpected final chance to crush Bernie Sanders’s socialist revolution.

Mr. Sanders achieved early front-runner status by making the wealthy into boogeymen. Pushed to the wall by a rising tide of antiwealth sentiment, these elite Democratic donors feared losing control of their party to a socialist who didn’t need them and, worse, would make them his permanent scapegoat. The patronage system they had built over generations, which assured them of power and fortune, was at risk of forced liquidation.

The Democratic donor class had thrown money at a succession of candidates they judged better bets.

  • Kamala Harris,
  • Cory Booker,
  • Beto O’Rourke and
  • Pete Buttigieg

were each trumpeted, proclaimed by the establishment’s media organs as the next Barack Obama. Then, to the horror of their backers, most failed to connect with voters and exited early. Donors were dispirited.

Michael Bloomberg’s entrance was a potential safe harbor—and an attractive one, given the prospect that donors could have influence without having to open their wallets. But that notion was dispelled the moment Elizabeth Warren eviscerated him on the debate stage.

With no viable options left, donors were becoming quietly resigned to a Sanders loss to President Trump in November. They could thrive economically in a second Trump term, but they couldn’t survive politically if a socialist took over their party apparatus. Backing Mr. Biden became the last option to consolidate their resources and recover their slipping grip on political power.

Everyone recognized the obvious problem: He was on his third run for president but had never won a primary. He’d been obliterated in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Then, the miracle. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s endorsement propelled Mr. Biden to pull off a back-from-the-dead triumph in South Carolina.

Mr. Clyburn immediately used his political capital to make clear that Mr. Biden needed a campaign “overhaul.” The candidate agreed. With this go-ahead, the money men kicked their efforts into high gear trying to put his Humpty Dumpty operation back together again.

The choreography of the establishment consolidating its resources quickly became visible. Mr. Biden hauled in $5 million in the 24 hours after South Carolina. Then came withdrawal announcements from Mr. Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. By the time Mr. Buttigieg offered his endorsement, Mr. Biden’s finance team had recruited dozens of Mayor Pete’s “bundlers.” Top Obama confidantes made it known that “the signal” had been sent to back the former vice president.

Alongside these on-the-ground moves, some media analysts estimated that Mr. Biden enjoyed as much as $72 million in earned media “air cover.” The press’s goodwill filled the void while the Biden campaign rushed to fill its coffers for the contests beyond Super Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden received another political blessing. Mr. Bloomberg exited the race after his $570 million campaign netted an embarrassingly low haul of delegates. He then immediately endorsed Mr. Biden, who will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of the former New York mayor’s deep pockets.

With no billionaire primary candidates left to kick around, Mr. Sanders has turned his ire against Mr. Biden’s contributors. Taking the stage in Minnesota Monday night, Mr. Sanders reprimanded his audience when they booed Mr. Biden’s name. The former vice president was a longtime friend and “decent guy whose just wrong on the issues,” Mr. Sanders said. Then he went after Mr. Biden’s donors: “Does anybody think that we’re going to bring about the change we need in America when you are indebted to 60 billionaires?

An unwieldy field has been narrowed to a two-man race. The millionaires and billionaires, the type of people Mr. Sanders has said “shouldn’t exist,” are throwing their backing to Mr. Biden, who, unlike Mr. Bloomberg, has a significant national following. Now he’ll have the money he needs to go up against Mr. Sanders’s well-funded and organized movement, which took in a gargantuan haul of $46.5 million in February.

This is the moment my Democratic donor friends have dreamed of since Hillary Clinton lost. The battle for the soul of their party will be fought on the terms that both they and Mr. Sanders want: big-money power brokers versus a small-dollar socialist mob. Since 2015, Bernie Sanders has been a threat to the political relevance of the Democratic donor class. Now, they’re out for revenge and hoping to bankrupt the socialist revolution once and for all.

The Billionaire Election

Bernie Sanders wants to get rid of them. Amy Klobuchar is fine with them, but wants them to pay somewhat higher taxes. Joe Biden promises them that under him, “nothing would fundamentally change.” Tom Steyer is one of them and wouldn’t be in the race if he wasn’t but seems slightly embarrassed about it. Elizabeth Warren wants to break up the companies that made many of them in the first place. Michael Bloomberg is trying to become president largely on the basis of being one. It would take Pete Buttigieg thousands of years to become one at his past rate of adult wealth creation, and yet he seems to be their top choice.

And waiting across the aisle, Donald Trump claims he’s one of them, which, because he’s Trump, means he probably isn’t.

I’m talking about billionaires, of course.

The Democratic debate on Wednesday made it clearer than ever that November’s election has become the billionaire referendum, in which it will be impossible to vote without taking a stand on extreme wealth in a democracy. The word “billionaire” came up more often than “China,” America’s leading geopolitical competitor; “immigration,” among its most contentious issues; and “climate,” its gravest existential threat.

Ms. Warren dominated the night by framing Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign as a bid to “substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.” When Mr. Sanders later confirmed his view that billionaires should not exist, one of the moderators, Chuck Todd, asked, “Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?” Mr. Bloomberg replied, “I worked very hard for it, and I’m giving it away.”

With the debate careening between billionaire loathing and billionaire self-love, Mr. Buttigieg warned against making voters “choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money ought to be the root of all power.”

As the veteran Washington watchers Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, of Axios, have observed, billionaires are less a major topic of this race than the total atmosphere of it. It’s not just the politicians. From Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg to Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch, billionaires are the captains of an economy whose cruelties have given this year its populist verve, the boogeypeople for some candidates, the bankrollers of others, and the owners of the platforms of persuasion.

So what should we do about them? Voters are being treated to a vast range of answers to that question — from “Let’s tax them down to mere millionaire status” to “Let’s put them in charge of everything A.S.A.P.”

The debate is testing abiding American assumptions. A country more ardently capitalist than most is asking itself, as seriously as at any time in the modern era, whether the ultrarich, just because they are ultrarich, endanger democracy. And a country just as committed, contrarily, to its founding ideal of equality is asking whether to resign itself to a gilded revolving door in which you unseat billionaire leaders you hate by electing billionaires you don’t mind.

These conditions make it at once utterly remarkable, and totally explicable, that Mr. Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont and a democratic socialist, has become the front-runner for the Democratic nomination — and that Ms. Warren’s debate performance this week resonated as much as it did. You wouldn’t know it from watching cable news, where pundits are often aghast at the tastes of regular people who think green rooms are just rooms that are green, but in recent years, anger at billionaires has risen to a boil. This is thanks to

  • the financial crisis, to
  • endless wars cheered on by corporate and media elites and to
  • yawning inequality.

There is a growing sense that billionaires are not people who just happen to have drifted up from our midst, that in fact they are up there because they are standing on our backs, pinning us down.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, have some meaningful differences of policy and personality. But the thread that connects their campaigns is their insistence that the “left behind” in America are not actually being left behind so much as stood on. They each seek to take the passive voice out of the grammar of American hardship: Your health insurance hasn’t somehow, mysteriously been made too expensive; your brick-and-mortar store hasn’t somehow, mysteriously been undercut. Someone did those things to you, probably by rigging the system to secure an undeserved advantage. And that person was probably a billionaire.

The degree of support for these ideas in 2020 is astonishing in a center-right country where, as John Steinbeck once wrote, explaining socialism’s limited growth in America: “We didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.” It is a reflection of how fed up many Americans are with the old narratives about how, with a little pluck and patience, they too will rise. And it is a sign of a generational changing of the guard. As the (millennial) journalist Charlotte Alter, author of the new book “The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” told me, “Socialism is a generational Rorschach test: Boomers think of Soviet gulags and bad shoes, millennials think of Swedish health care and free education.”

In the mainstream of the Democratic Party, it has long been said that billionaires should pay more of their “fair share.” But, until recently, few would have questioned that you’d want more billionaires on the Forbes list, not fewer. Today a vocal chunk of the Democratic electorate is gravitating to a strikingly different conclusion: that America would actually be better off reducing its billionaire population through taxes and profit-trimming regulations.

(In fact, if I could ask one debate question, it would be this: Raise your hand if you would want there to be more billionaires at the end of your presidency than the start; raise your hand if you’d want fewer billionaires. Then, same question, but applied to millionaires. I think it would be revealing.)

Ballooning anti-billionaire sentiment is galvanizing billionaires. Some have been motivated to go on television to cast their critics as naïve and un-American. Others donate to centrist candidates like Mr. Biden, Mr. Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who serve a cocktail of down-home incrementalism shaken with wealth defense. But it took a special billionaire — Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York — to find a more direct way to thwart ascendant progressives. He is seeking to buy the election.

Just when the accountants thought they knew every tax-avoidance trick, here is the ultimate: become the leader of the free world. Of course, Mr. Bloomberg would say that he is running for an entirely different reason, which also happens to be very billionairey: He thinks he’s the only one with the wits and war chest to pull it off. “I alone can fix it,” as Mr. Trump once put it. It is something of a mantra for the billionaires.

There was never a way for Mr. Bloomberg to run as anything but Mr. Billionaire. The pitch he landed on was incorruptibility. “I will be the only candidate in this race who isn’t corruptible,” Mr. Bloomberg told an audience in Phoenix last November, “who isn’t going to take a penny from anyone, and will work for a dollar a year.” This was the best he could do: suggest that being a billionaire would make him more honest because billionaires are so rich they don’t have to listen to other billionaires.

One problem with this approach is that it is eerily similar to that taken by Mr. Trump, whose White House Mr. Bloomberg has called “besotted by lies, chaos and corruption.” As Larry Kudlow, a Trump adviser, put it in 2016, “Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people? Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” And Mr. Trump also said, “As far as salary is concerned, I won’t take even one dollar.”

The billionaire’s intrinsic incorruptibility is a curious pitch when you seek to run against a maybe-billionaire impeached for corruption. But even if we take Mr. Bloomberg at his word, the notion that being beholden only to your own opinions, and not those of many donors, deserves more scrutiny. Personally, I am not a fan of billionaires pumping any money at all into politics. But I would trust someone who has to juggle the different needs, moods and taboos of multiple billionaire donors over a billionaire who is accountable only to himself.

Mr. Bloomberg’s incorruptibility argument functions as a smokescreen. It can cause you to ignore that his basic enterprise — spending his personal fortune to flood the airwaves with an unprecedented deluge of ads, thereby ginning up votes and arguably purchasing the presidency — is the picture of corruption.

(When I texted my friend Alexander Theodoridis, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced, to ask if any scholarship could shed light on Mr. Bloomberg’s method of campaigning, he answered: “Most of the work on buying votes is about the developing world, which perhaps the U.S. is joining.”)

Yet, simply by running, Mr. Bloomberg is performing a valuable public service: illustrating to the public how billionaire influence complicates any challenges to billionaire influence.

As Alexander Burns and Nicholas Kulish have documented in these pages, Mr. Bloomberg is a dedicated philanthropist — and has leveraged his giving to develop “a national infrastructure of influence, image-making and unspoken suasion that has helped transform a former Republican mayor of New York City into a plausible contender for the Democratic nomination.” By giving away billions of dollars to nonprofit groups that fight for the most vulnerable, Mr. Bloomberg has made allies out of people who might otherwise be vocally against him.

This, too, is what is at stake in the billionaire referendum. Do we wish to be a society in which wealth purchases fealty? Are we cool with plutocrats taking advantage of a cash-starved state to run their own private policy machinery, thus cultivating the networks required to take over the state from time to time, and run it in ways that further entrench wealth?

Just this week, Mr. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, announced his creation of a $10 billion fund to fight climate change. Once, such a gift might have been greeted with unmitigated gratitude. But now, rightly, people are asking about all the taxes Amazon doesn’t pay, about its own carbon footprint, and about whether any mortal should have that much power over a shared crisis.

This, too, is on the ballot this autumn. There are candidates who would leave undisturbed the opportunity to create wealth on that scale and who encourage the private solution of public problems. (One less thing for the pols to do!) And there are candidates who want the Bezoses of the world to have way less money, and who want citizens to trust that the government having that money instead will mean better solutions.

Never in our lifetimes has it been a prerequisite to have a take on billionaires in order to do your basic civic duty and vote. But it is now. Here are some questions no voter can avoid:

Do you think we shouldn’t have billionaires or should have many more — maybe you?!

Do you think being incredibly wealthy makes you immune to corruption, or prone to it?

Do you think it’s possible to empower those Americans locked in the basement of opportunity while helping billionaires do even better — a win-win? Or do you believe we need to take away a great deal of billionaire wealth to give millions a better life?

Do you trust a news media that sells advertisements to corporations owned by billionaires, and sometimes to billionaire candidates directly, to inform you properly about the level of power billionaires have and what to do about it?

Do you believe only a billionaire is qualified to solve the problems billionaires helped create? Or are you skeptical of the deployment of arsonists as firefighters?

Let’s face it. You’re unlikely to become one of the billionaires. But you can choose whether to resign yourself to living in their country — or to remind them that they live in yours.

If Elizabeth Warren really wants to unrig the system, she should focus on the Dream Hoarders

Odds are that you have not been following the recent libertarian dust-up over the merits of an Elizabeth Warren presidency. To give a brief recap: The main contenders were Will Wilkinson and Jerry Taylor of the “liberaltarian” Niskanen Center, who have been Warren-friendly to varying degrees; their opponents were colleague Samuel Hammond, along with Tyler Cowen of the more traditionally libertarian Mercatus Center, who touched off the whole debate with a withering critique of Warren’s policies.

A point-by-point exploration of their arguments would exceed the space allotted for this column by several thousand inches. But I think one can sum up the libertarian approach to Warren with a single question: How big a problem do you think billionaires, and the mega-successful corporations they helm, pose to the average American? Actually, come to think of it, I think that’s about how you’d sum up the question of Warren from any angle.

Which is why this debate ultimately matters to a lot more people than just some cranky libertarians: It speaks directly to a whole lot of young people who see that the economy doesn’t work for them the way it did for their parents and grandparents, and therefore conclude that somewhere along the way, the people it is working for — the barons of finance, the giants of Silicon Valley — must have rigged the system in their favor.

To be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. As Adam Smith once wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Bankers and tech executives very much included. So I find myself nodding in agreement with Wilkinson — and, by extension, with the progressive base of the Democratic Party — when he says: “Warren’s general diagnosis of the problem — it’s a rigged system of anticompetitive rent-seeking enabled by insufficiently democratic and representative political institutions — is broadly similar to my own.”

Yet they’re not entirely right, either. Are big corporations, or billionaires, or banks, or tech giants, or health insurers and pharmaceutical firms — to name some of Warren’s favorite targets — really the reason that young people are struggling

  • with enormous student loans? Are they the reason that millennial homeownership lags that of their parents? Are they the
  • reason that recent college graduates are more likely than their elders to be underemployed? Have they
  • driven the cost of health insurance to its current stratospheric levels?

Sure, Warren may be eager to sic her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on your mortgage lender if you fall afoul of some obscure clause, but that’s not the problem for most Americans. They’re much more likely to struggle with finding affordable housing in prosperous cities. In fairness, Warren does have a plan to ease the zoning regulations that cause the shortage — but for some reason she rarely talks about it on the campaign trail, possibly because it’s constitutionally dubious, but more likely because it would alienate her affluent suburban base.

Similarly, Warren is eager to forgive student loans — a $1.6 trillion transfer to some of the most affluent members of society — but not to attack degree creep, which has walled off most of the best jobs for those who hold a bachelor of arts while enriching a lot of colleges. She targets insurers and drugmakers, but not the hospitals and medical workers who drive most of our health-care costs.

Too many of her proposals are like this; they focus on corporate villains or billionaires while ignoring the much broader class of people that Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution dubbed the “Dream Hoardersthe well-educated upper-middle-class people who are desperate to pass their privilege onto their kids, and are unhappy about the steadily mounting cost of doing so. They’re Warren’s base.

Unfortunately, the Dream Hoarders — and I include myself in their number — are a much bigger problem for the rest of America than the billionaires whose wealth Warren promises to expropriate. Those billionaires got that way by building companies that disrupted cozy local monopolies, and they fund coding camps for high-school dropouts; Dream Hoarders

  • protect their professional licensing regimes and
  • insist on ever more extensive and expensive educations in the people they hire. Dream Hoarders also
  • pull every lever to keep their own housing prices high — and poorer kids out of their schools — while
  • using their wealth to carefully guide their children over the hurdles they’ve erected.

Which may be why the best predictor of a neighborhood with a low degree of income mobility is not the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else — the gap that Warren focuses on with all her talk of taxing billionaires — but

If you really want to unrig the system, you need to focus less on a handful of billionaires than on the iron grip that the Dream Hoarders have on America’s most powerful institutions — including, to all appearances, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.