Warren Stephens on capitalism, tax reform and the Trump administration

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,999 views 

Warren Stephens, CEO of Little Rock-based Stephens Inc., is worried about the future of capitalism. The billionaire businessman has helped launch a new series to promote capitalism and its benefits – the ability to help anyone from any circumstance improve their lives and society.

Through a new series of videos to highlight the lives of famous, and not so famous, Americans who benefited from capitalism, Stephens is pushing his cause. The catalyst?

“It’s obvious, really. I mean, all you had to do was look at the appeal that Bernie Sanders had in the last election, and he carried 22 states in a Democratic primary, and he’s a socialist,” said Stephens, who appeared in an exclusive interview on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.

“He’s espousing policies that are socialistic and it resonated with a lot of young people. It just dawned on me, that they don’t even understand what capitalism is, and they probably don’t understand what socialism is, either,” he added. “I just think there’s not a full understanding of what capitalism allows people and everyday people to benefit from and conduct their lives, so that’s why we launched this series, ‘This Is Capitalism.’”

Stephens said he knows from polling that “free enterprise” polls better than “capitalism,” but he wants to correct the course that he sees capitalism’s reputation taking.

“Somehow capitalism is a greedy, zero-sum game that people who have an ‘in’ can do well and people who don’t cannot. Really, nothing could be further from the truth. Now, I freely admit, as government and business seems to have gotten closer over the years — you know, the phrase ‘crony capitalism’ does have some significance and real meaning, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re 100% opposed to that, crony capitalism, and 100% supportive of capitalism. Let’s see where the ideas go, and how people do,” Stephens said.

You can access the first two videos in the “This is Capitalism” series here.


Stephens’ interview also included his thoughts on the launch of the Trump administration and state and federal efforts to reform the tax code.

Stephens shared his observations on the 45th President’s first 100+ days in office.

“The Trump administration has gotten off to a very slow start and I think they’re not well-organized,” he said. “I congratulate them on getting healthcare back on track through the House, but now, you know, it goes to the Senate, and there’s gonna be a whole new bill.”

“I certainly think the Trump administration could be doing a better job of keeping things focused on healthcare, and tax reform, and Dodd-Frank,” he added. “I think they’re doing some things with executive order, where they can, but you know, executive orders can be reversed by the next President. So, they need to do that where they can, but they also need to address it legislatively.”

At the federal level, Stephens said he hopes to see a reduction in capital gains taxes to stir investment and income tax reduction. However, the whole notion of taxation ties back to his central views on capitalism versus socialism that started the conversation.

“I think the tax rate on capital gains really, really needs to come down. It is a historically proven fact, if you lower capital gains rates, the revenue goes up. And the same is not true on income taxes, by the way, but I do think that income taxes ought to come down,” he said. “Right now, when you see what people in the top 1% are paying of the federal tax receipts, it’s far more than their share that the 1% gets of income… People say, ‘Well, we want to tax our top 1%,’ well, you’re already doing it. Because the top 10% pay virtually all the income taxes in this country.”

“The real problem is the government consumes too much money. And either we’re going to address that, there is, if you confiscated all the top 10%’s income, you don’t fix the budget shortfall. So, you know, we’ve got structural issues here in spending that need to be addressed,” Stephens added. “Until you address the spending, you’re not gonna fix the budget, and people that want free tuition or free healthcare, there is no such thing. Somebody’s going to pay for it.”

Stephens also applauded Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s efforts to decrease the state’s income tax rate. He noted that Arkansas is wedged between two states – Texas and Tennessee – that have no personal income tax rate.

“I know you get to make it up in other areas, but it’s much more discretionary in terms of property taxes and sales taxes,” he said. “And for businesses to be attracted to Arkansas, we’ve got to have a more competitive rate because you can stop in Tennessee or you can skip over us and go to Texas and pay zero. You don’t even get to first base with a lot of companies that are looking to relocate. And I’d like to see us be more competitive in that area.”

Watch Warren Stephens’ full interview in the video below.