While Elizabeth Warren has made her mark as an "anti-candidate"--she disdains big tech as much as Wall Street, for instance--less is known about her policies that actually favor U.S. small businesses. Indeed, of the 24 Democratic candidates currently vying for the opportunity to retake the White House in 2020, the senior senator from Massachusetts may well be the most pro-business in the bunch.
Here are Warren's five most interesting small-business friendly proposals.
1. Put PE firms on the hook for losses
Her latest plan to rein in private equity, for which she has a co-sponsor in fellow presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), would certainly clip the size of the private equity industry. By eliminating the carried interest loophole--which allows managers to pay lower taxes on their earnings--and curbing a firm's ability to charge management fees, the industry itself could suffer. But actual companies may benefit. Let me explain: Under Warren's proposal, which she has dubbed the "Stop Wall Street Looting Act," private equity firms would be responsible for the debts of the companies they buy. This measure could prevent private equity companies from, say, buying a company just to sell off its assets. In other words, private equity companies would have an interest in seeing their portfolio companies prosper. Otherwise, they'd be on the hook.
2. Create a one-stop shop for government support
Warren has also called for the consolidation of a variety of fragmented government agencies that promote and guide small businesses and entrepreneurs into one, dubbed the Department of Economic Development. This unified agency would combine, among others, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the Small Business Administration, for instance. This is also a plan that Former President Barack Obama suggested in 2012 and President Trump is currently pursuing. If her plan succeeds, entrepreneurs could get help with their intellectual property, funding, and administrative efforts all in one place--potentially saving time and money.
3. Substantially increase U.S. research and development spending
While Warren provides no exact numbers yet, she vows to substantially increase the amount the U.S. government spends on R&D. The current administration approved the largest R&D spending increase in a decade. Even more investment could help shore up additional resources for entrepreneurs, especially those in tech who require large upfront R&D costs. The Internet, after all, came out of a government project.
This "substantial" increase, however, comes with some conditions that she should be careful don't disproportionately hurt entrepreneurs and small businesses. For instance, Warren's plan suggests that taxpayers be reimbursed for R&D investment--perhaps through equity stakes in companies receiving government R&D investment. Taxpayers would then directly receive a dividend, like regular shareholders, from successful companies. While this is an innovative idea that could sharpen incentives, entrepreneurs competing for talent by providing equity could be hurt relative to larger firms if part of their equity must be reserved for taxpayers.
4. Alleviate student debts en masse
Warren outlines a plan for widespread student debt forgiveness based on income, providing immediate debt relief to approximately 95 percent of Americans with student debt. Debt relief can make it financially less risky for entrepreneurs to start companies. It can also make it easier to access outside financing, should a bank consider an entrepreneur's personal financial situation in making lending decisions. While the current administration has proposed some changes to ease loan payments, it has stopped short of the aggressive forgiveness plans Warren suggests.
5. Level the playing field with large companies
Giant tech companies like Google and Facebook may not like Warren's calls for breaking up their companies, but smaller firms ought to. If large corporations get taken down a notch by regulators and future mergers and acquisitions are met with greater scrutiny--as Warren suggests--it could be transformative for smaller businesses, particularly those who've found unlikely sparring partners in Google and Amazon. While most businesses want to scale, getting to the next level can be more difficult if it means competing with giant companies. This change could make doing business in America more competitive and more tenable for new companies.