America’s tax system is relatively progressive. The idea of a large federal redistributive income-tax system was once, Warren noted, considered revolutionary and unrealistic to boot, but she’s not proposing any grand next step. What would that step be? Our government does less to reduce inequality than Tom Piketty’s does not because we don’t tax rich people, but because we don’t tax middle-class people much and give less money to the poor — fixing that does not seem to be a major plank in the Warren plan.
Warren’s agenda, left-leaning as it is, isn’t about rigorous progressive examination of what’s gone wrong with our system or how to fix it. It’s about intuitively appealing ideas and pleasing particular constituencies. Of course, this is pretty good politics — as the number of attendees who told me they want Warren to run for president seems to suggest.
But her fan base may end up disappointed. For one, she was a reluctant Senate candidate, and a Warren for President campaign still seems a far-off dream. And Professor Piketty — perhaps sensing that she’s as good as the left wing of American politics has these days — wasn’t about to say it, but Elizabeth Warren isn’t an economic expert or a progressive policy crusader. She’s a talented populist who sells clever but unserious proposals with a sense of academic sophistication that makes Bostonians feel like they’re clapping for someone whose views are an intellectual cut above Ed Schultz’s. In the end, they’re not. But they definitely are clapping.