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What Do Tucker Carlson, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez Have In Common?

Elizabeth Warren and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez have made the news recently with their attacks on billionaires and capitalism. As proof that politics makes strange bedfellows, however, Tucker Carlson, the conservative, Trump-supporting Fox News commentator is sounding more and more like the two Democratic congresswomen.

To make the point, look at the three quotes below and try to determine which came from Carlson and which came from Warren and Ocasio Cortez:

  • “I’m definitely against a system where really the only success stories are like 27 billionaires who hate America, which is where we are now.”
  • “Our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.”
  • Uber is “not a sustainable business model. The only reason it continues is because of your generosity. Because you’re paying the welfare benefits for Uber’s impoverished drivers.”

If you suspected that this was a trick, you’re right. All three quotes are from Tucker Carlson. The first was from the 2018 Student Action Summit, the second from Carlson’s January 3, 2019 monologue in response to a Mitt Romney op-ed, and the third from an August 30, 2018 segment on his Fox News show. Without context, the lines could just as easily have come from Alexandra Ocasio Cortez or Elizabeth Warren, however.

Carlson’s rhetoric against billionaires and capitalism seems strikingly similar to Cortez’s statement last week that, “I do think a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.”

Adding to the populist pileup is Elizabeth Warren, who recently unveiled her plan for a wealth tax on the superrich. “We are now in an America where one-tenth of one percent has about the same wealth as 90 percent of America,” Warren said. “And here’s the deal. Forty percent of America today can’t come up with 400 bucks in an emergency. That is not an economy that is sustainable, and it’s not a democracy that’s sustainable.”

The meeting of the minds between Carlson and the Democrats represents a crossover between the populist tendencies of the right and left. Carlson almost acknowledged this in a Jan. 26 interview with Salon.

“My intention in writing it [his monologue responding to Mitt Romney] was to remind the Republican Party that these are now issues of concern for you,” Carlson said, “because for a hundred years you represented capital over and against labor. I mean that’s kind of the purpose of the Republican Party. They used to represent the investor class, right? So, the conventional criticisms of the Republicans as the party of management were 100 percent true, obviously.”

“What I wanted to remind Republican lawmakers was that it’s no longer true, that’s not your constituency anymore,” Carlson added. “You have a new constituency and it’s people who are primarily wage earners and primarily, not low income, but lower income.”

Carlson seems to have bought into the liberal idea of a society that is divided into winners and losers rather than the traditional conservative belief that a rising tide floats all boats. A free market economy will necessarily produce wealthy people who have ideas that form the nucleus of companies that earn profits and create jobs. In contrast to the view that wealth is bad, the companies created by the wealthy help in the economy in two main ways. First, they provide jobs and, second, they provide products that raise the standard of living.

One such American success story is Amazon, but rather than celebrating the company that provides more than 600,000 jobs and made life better for millions, Carlson is critical. “Thousands of Amazon employees are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages are too low. And guess who pays for that? You do,” he wrote last year. “Frankly, I don’t believe that ordinary Americans should be subsidizing the wealthiest person in the world because he pays his employees inadequate wages.”

Oops, sorry. Bernie Sanders actually said that. But Tucker Carlson made a statement that was very similar: “Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is worth about $150 billion. That’s enough to make him the richest man in the world by far, and possibly the richest human being in all of human history. It’s certainly enough to pay his employees well. But he doesn’t. A huge number of Amazon workers are so poorly paid, they qualify for federal welfare benefit.”

Bernie and Tucker ignore the fact that there is no such thing as a bad job. Some Americans prefer part-time jobs so that they can spend more time with their families. Some take part-time jobs in addition to a full-time job. In any case, minimum wage jobs usually lead to higher paying jobs after the worker gains experience. This could be through promotions within the company or finding a better job at a completely different company. In any case, it is well established that mandating that companies increase wages leads to fewer jobs.

The truth is that wages are increasing for all Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2018 that wages saw the biggest gain since 2009. While wages were slow to recover in the wake of the Great Recession, as unemployment fell to less than four percent. As the economy grows, workers will benefit with higher wages as the market for labor tightens.

When conservatives embrace populism, they lose sight of the economic truths that have benefitted the West for hundreds of years. The result is a mishmash of emotion and policy that leaves both sides of the political spectrum confused and overlapping. That confusion didn’t begin in 2016 when Donald Trump espoused a trade policy that was very similar to that of Bernie Sanders. There was already a considerable anti-trade movement growing in the GOP even before Trump appeared on the scene, but the Republican populism was accelerated by the 2016 election.

Carlson’s solution seems similar to the Democrats in that he wants someone to direct the economy to do what he wants it to. He even says that he is open to voting for Elizabeth Warren if she promises to exert centralized control over the economy in a way that he wants.

“If there was a Democrat in 2020 in this election who made that primary plank in the platform, I would vote for that person. That’s how important I think it is,” Carlson told Salon. “If Elizabeth Warren came out and said, ‘I wrote a whole book on this and I want our economy to support parents on one income, families on one income, not so we can hire some person from the Third World to work at minimum wage and raise your kids, but so that you can have an intact family. You can live in a way that we all know is better.’”

But Carlson’s goal of directing the economy to support single parents can only be achieved through bigger government that takes away wealth from people who earned it. That is not conservative or a free market policy.

Admittedly, workers have suffered over the past decade since the 2008 financial crisis. Wages were slow to recover in the Obama years and manufacturing jobs took a hit, although the populists misidentified the culprit. It was automation rather than outsourcing that caused much of the pain. Today, the economy seems to be undergoing a shift as part of the technological and internet revolutions, but a changing economy doesn’t mean that the underlying laws of economics are no longer valid.

Capitalism is still the ideology that has lifted millions out of poverty and the expansion of fairness through government control that Carlson and others seem to suggest would restrict the free market’s ability to help workers, not help it. Unfortunately, the idea that Big Government can make capitalism more fair is where the Democrats and the populist wing of the Republican Party come together.

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