- Elizabeth Warren’s presidential run has become polarising on Wall Street. There are some people who like her policies, and some people who worry about what those policies will do to their jobs and their wealth.
- There’s also a third category of people on Wall Street who, like billionaire investor Leon Cooperman, think because Warren is bad for their jobs and their wealth she’s also bad for America. In an interview with Politico he said Warren was “s——g on” the American Dream.
- It’s almost as if he thinks his wealth and American Dream are one in the same.
- His view is as unfortunate as it is incorrect. What’s more, it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of American values and capitalism.
Wall Street is not a monolith. There are Republicans and Democrats, people from all religions and walks of life, gay people and straight people, all kinds of people.
And in the 2020 presidential election Elizabeth Warren has become a litmus test for who among them know what America is, and what it stands for, and who does not.
There has been a fair amount of reporting about where Wall Street stands on Warren since her political career was born out of her work for consumers during the financial crisis – work that ultimately created the now-gutted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
For one thing she would kill the private equity industry as we know it by forcing investors to take on more risk when they take over ailing companies. The idea is that if a private equity firm’s efforts fail it shares in losses with the employees and other stakeholders (like pensioners) of the business they have taken over.
As the industry stands now that doesn’t always happen, to put it mildly. For example, research from the California Polytechnic State University shows that 20% of companies acquired by private equity through a leveraged buy-out (which adds more debt to a company’s balance sheet) go bankrupt again within 10 years.
So while there are some on Wall Street who like Warren and know that some of their industry is toxic, there are also many who know she’s bad for their business. Fair enough. This column isn’t about either of those groups. This column is for the Leon Coopermans of the world.
The alpha and the omega advisors
Cooperman, a billionaire investor who settled insider trading charges with the Securities Exchange Commission in 2017, has been griping about Warren in a very particular way. Not only does he think Warren’s Wall Street policies bad for him and his business, they are – he argues – anti- American. They are against our values.
“What is wrong with billionaires? You can become a billionaire by developing products and services that people will pay for,” the head of Omega Advisors said in an interview with Politico. “I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more. But this is the f—–g American dream she is s——g on.”
Warren, we should note, has made a wealth tax that would place a 2% tax on the $US50 million and 1st dollar of wealth an individual holds and beyond the centrepiece of her campaign. This is likely what was upsetting Cooperman, and it makes one wonder exactly what kind of progressive income tax he would be open to.
The “services” billionaire investors like Cooperman provide are also being reimagined in Warren’s campaign, much to Cooperman’s discomfort. However, last I checked the founding fathers did not put the right to do a leveraged buy-out in the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers, or even Articles of Confederation. Last I checked the 2% and 20% fee structure hedge funds charge their clients wasn’t an integral part of the the American Dream either.
It seems Cooperman is conflating Warren’s policies (which he is welcome to dislike) with an attack on the values we all share as Americans, because he seems to believe the values we all share as Americans are that the Leon Coopermans of the world should be allowed to get rich exactly the way want to get rich.
To Cooperman it is an affront to our core American values if we as a nation come to believe there is something wrong with how Wall Street is doing business and elect someone to reflect that idea. As if the 10 year yield, Goldman Sachs, and Bain Capital were all written on the Statue of Liberty along with “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
Warren responded directly to Cooperman on Twitter saying: “Leon, you were able to succeed because of the opportunities this country gave you. Now why don’t you pitch in a bit more so everyone else has a chance at the American dream, too?”
That is to say that Warren, through her policies, is attempting to revitalize a real American value – every individual’s right to an equal chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Research published by worker groups including the Private Equity Stakeholder Project and the Centre for Popular Democracy argue that private equity firms were directly and indirectly responsible for the loss of 1.3 million jobs over the last decade. It hardly seems un-American to want to do something about that.
Job losses of that scale, after all, are why Donald Trump has a trade war on with China. They make you wonder if there’s something wrong with American capitalism – if something has happened to make it more violent, and less able to produce the kinds of jobs that do, in fact, get you to the American Dream.
And that American Dream is not to help the Leon Coopermans of the world remain billionaires no matter what it costs anyone else.
Cooperman has argued that Warren’s policies are bad for America’s dynamism and growth – that remains to be seen. What is certain is that they would be bad for the Leon Coopermans of Wall Street and their bonuses.
I am here to say that those two things are not one in the same. To believe that they are is to be confused about what America, fundamentally, is.
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