Problem Solver

An Interview with John Delaney

Octavian Report: Why are you running for President, and what do you bring to the table?

John Delaney: I've always thought of my life as one-third learning, one-third earning, and one-third serving. But I think what really made me focus on running for office was running my business — a good-sized business that focused on lending money to small- to mid-sized companies. We financed 5,000 small to mid-sized businesses all over the country. We had a really good perspective on what was going on with lots of small and mid-sized businesses, in addition to having a couple thousand employees of our own. And I became incredibly frustrated with the debate going on in politics about what is needed to create jobs and make sure the country's competitive and make sure workers have good opportunities. It struck me as so misguided on both sides of the aisle. That's really what pushed me to say my voice is a voice that we should have in politics.

There's really three things that I've been focused on politically. I want to solve problems. We've got a lot of issues in this country that need to be dealt with, and there's a path forward on all of them. We just need someone who's willing to roll up their sleeves and find common ground to get it done. That's the first reason. The second reason is that as a former entrepreneur I've always been focused on the future. The future we're headed for right now is not the one we want, and we need to rethink a bunch of things about the kind of future we're building for my kids and everyone else's kids. The third reason is to bring the country together and restore a sense of common purpose. I think that the central issue facing this country right now is how divided we are. On all three of those issues, what I bring to the table is a track record of success. I've been someone who's brought people together and I've always been forward-thinking and forward-leaning about where the world is going.

Something that I think the private sector does well, and the public sector does a terrible job at, is finding the best ideas no matter the source. I think that's one of the problems with the public sector right now: people are so darn ideological they think whatever kind of ideology they come from has all the answers to the point where they don't even listen to the question. I, however, have been a problem-solver my whole life.

OR: What are the major policy challenges the country faces, as you see them?

Delaney: There's a lot of economic dislocation and concentration here right now. That's been brought on by technology and globalization, which although it's been positive, has left a lot of Americans behind, and we haven't updated the social compact to prepare our citizens for it. So to address that, we need to do things like double the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as create an incentive for investors to invest in communities that are left behind. Last year, 80 percent of U.S. venture capital went to just 50 counties. It's a tremendous concentration of opportunity. We also need to create a form of universal health care: workers are going to be more mobile in the future and shouldn't have their health care tied to their jobs. We need to fundamentally improve public education, because kids aren't graduating with the education they need.

The second big issue is climate. We should have been addressing it 10 years ago. On that, what I favor is a carbon tax. I introduced the only bipartisan carbon tax in Congress in 2018. I also favor efforts to invest in innovation — ultimately we have to innovate our way out of this problem. I think we can do it, but we need a transformative increase in research and we need to create a market for things like negative emission technologies, which can pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

The third policy issue we've got to deal with is our fiscal trajectory. Our deficits are at record levels despite a pretty strong economy. And that's going to end very badly for the next generation.

OR: Why has fiscal health become such an afterthought for our political class, and how do we address that problem?

Delaney: I think at the end of the day we have to get young people focused on it, because the generation it's largely controlled by right now has shown a complete indifference to it. In some ways, what our government has never been well-suited for is dealing with slow-moving, big problems. It's generally good at reacting to an emergency, but it's very bad at dealing with slow-moving, big problems like climate and the fiscal trajectory. The more polarized the government is, the less capable it is of dealing with those issues. And that's I think what's happened: the last several decades have been characterized by intense partisanship. As a result, issues (like the fiscal trajectory) that involve shared sacrifice to get back on track have lost any kind of footing to get dealt with. It's like climate. We need to be talking to the next generation about the world they're getting left, and make them very energized around it.

OR: What do you make of the ideological and policy shifts ongoing within your party?

Delaney: I think if we'd made some progress on some important issues that it would have created less oxygen for people on the extremes in both the Republican Party or the Democratic Party to get traction. In other words, because the center didn't hold, it's given the extremes more ammunition to argue for complete structural changes. I admire a lot of the goals. But I also, I believe, have a better understanding how our country really works and how we make progress historically.

Some of these approaches are not really the way we make the progress we want to make. Look at climate change, for example. We either think climate change is a really big problem, or we don't. If we think it's a really big problem, then we set a singular focus on doing whatever we can as soon as possible to start slowing the damage. But if we think it's not a problem but rather a good political issue, then we surround it with other issues like universal health care and universal basic income and effectively make it harder to get something done. It may make it a more interesting discussion, but it's harder to get it done.