Elizabeth Warren: 'Wealth trickles up'

June 3, 2014: 2:52 PM ET
Warren and Piketty on the same stage
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Senator Elizabeth Warren is not shy about being a crusader for the middle class.

The senior Massachusetts lawmaker had some choice words for the rich in an online dialogue Monday with French economist Thomas Piketty on economic inequality. The forum, hosted by The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim, was organized by MoveOn, a liberal political action group.

Warren and Piketty have each just written best-selling books on income inequality. Warren authored a memoir called "A Fighting Chance," which also discusses what Washington can do to help the middle class. Piketty analyzed data from 20 countries in his tome on income inequality and the concentration of wealth, entitled "Capital in the Twenty-First Century."

Here is a list of choice quotes from Warren on how the rich have rigged the system.

On Piketty's findings: Wealth does not trickle down. It trickles up. It trickles from everyone else to those who are rich.

On taxes: When people feel like we're not all in this together, we're not all sharing, we're not all paying a fair share of our income or our wealth, then I think what you get is it all comes all unraveled. Everyone moves towards I will pay the least because he's paying the least.

Related: Rich, really rich, and ultra rich

On small businesses: Small business owners pay and pay and pay on taxes because the loopholes aren't as available to them. You look at Fortune 500 companies, companies that are profitable and end up paying zero in taxes.

Elizabeth Warren: 'The game is rigged'

On rewriting the rules: Those who are rich have managed to help rewrite the rules so they get more and more. So they get breaks in taxes and get to keep more. So the regulations tilt in their favor. So they have better business opportunities. So they have better ability to earn than everyone else who's out there working. When that starts to happen, we get a country that's headed in the wrong direction.

On the system: The game right now in America is rigged. It is rigged so that those at the top keep doing better and better, and everyone else is under increasing pressure, is under increasing economic strain. The rules don't get better for America's middle class. The rules are getting better for those who are a thin slice at the top. And that is the profound danger that we see from great inequality.

On unions: Unions helped build America's great middle class. They did that two ways. They did it by getting out and getting workers organized so there were better working conditions, better pay. They ended up raising wages for union and non-union workers. They ended up getting health benefits for union and non-union workers. But here's the key: The second thing unions did is they were out there as a force to be able to argue for things that were in the interest of working people generally.

On estate taxes: There's a fundamental question in this country. Which do we think deserves reward: Is it those who work hard and who are smart, who get out there and make something happen? Or those were born into the right families and who are protected by a tax code that says generation after generation, they don't even have to work? We have prided ourselves as a country being built by a country of people who get out there and work. Our tax system has to reflect that same value. It has to reflect the importance of work and people who achieve and people who accomplish over being born into wealth.

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