Nov 26, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Bloomberg's 2020 run is a test of America's entrepreneurial aspirations

Michael Bloomberg.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Michael Bloomberg's entry into the 2020 presidential race was reflexively roasted in certain quarters as little more than a billionaire trying to buy an election — or, in the more succinct words of Anand Giridharadas, "plutes gonna plute."

Between the lines: What gets lost in between aren't the specifics of Bloomberg's record, or if he'd make a better or worse president than his rivals. It's the intrinsic value of entrepreneurship, and if that remains an aspirational touchstone for American voters.

The state of play: This was an issue raised by Sen. Cory Booker during the last week's presidential debate, when he argued that Democrats are doing themselves a disservice if they talk about taxing wealth to the exclusion of talking about creating wealth.

  • Those comments were directed at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who repeatedly ignored the dichotomy — instead responding only with more detail about her wealth tax proposal.
  • Other than Booker, no one on stage mentioned "small business" or "entrepreneurs."

The big picture: Bloomberg, as one of America's most successful living entrepreneurs, has created and amassed a lot of wealth. More than any man could spend in his lifetime, and perhaps more than he could responsibly give away.

  • There should be a thorough accounting of how he made his money, and how it affected others along the way.
  • If there are legitimate criticisms, let 'em fly. Just as they should for any other part of his professional and personal conduct, in both the private and public sectors.
  • And there is certainly value in a robust debate over the future viability of plutocracy in America, including the idea of taxing wealth (as opposed to only taxing income).

Yes, but: Dismissing a candidate's validity because he was a very successful entrepreneur feels like something new in our politics and in our culture. A deliberate mildewing of the American Dream.

  • Of course it's unlikely that Bloomberg will become president. He has loads of unrelated liabilities. Let alone a very late start.
  • If he does indeed falter, though, pay close attention to the post-game analysis. Was it all of those other reasons, or because enough Americans have concluded that successful entrepreneurship has become a vice instead of virtue?

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