Sen. Mark Warner visits Batten class

Discusses future of work, technology, economy

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) spoke to Prof. Gerald Warburg’s Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century class about the future of work, technology and the state of the economy Wednesday.

The premise of the course is to focus on future issues, and Warner’s experience with technological change is particularly relevant to the course, Warburg said.

Warner said success isn’t a straight line and he believes his own history of graduating with student debt and taking jobs in energy startups and real estate is a testament to this fact.

“You learn as much if not more from your failures than your successes,” Warner said.

While discussing partisan conflicts, Warner compared the Senate to an arena for team sports in which legislators are measured by what they stand against rather than what they get done.

Warner said while some people in both parties think they have a monopoly on truth or patriotism, the Founding Fathers designed the federal government so people must agree in order to get anything done.

“Too often I believe right now we’re in this period where folks are more interested in telling you ‘no’ than ever actually trying to get to ‘yes,’” Warner said.

Warburg said he wanted students to hear first-hand from someone like Warner who doesn’t see “compromise” as a dirty word and focuses on bipartisan solutions.

“I want [the students] to understand that an engaged legislator like Warner is frustrated but he doesn’t give up and walk away… he doubles down on pressing for bipartisan compromise,” Warburg said.

Warner discussed the future of work and changing employment opportunities, comparing them to previous generations.

“The notion of what it means to have a job when you leave Grounds is going to be fundamentally different,” Warner said.

Warner said this idea is embodied in the new “gig economy” of businesses like Uber and Etsy. He said these companies monetize time, parking, transportation and other assets yet redefine the social contract by lacking social insurance such as worker’s compensation and health benefits.

“Maybe we ought to have a little policy experimentation in transformation of work area and reimagine what a new social contract would look like,” Warner said. “How do you navigate and support innovation and also make sure there’s some level of shared responsibility?”

Increasingly, modern American capitalism focuses on short-term quarterly results, which doesn’t work for a lot of Americans, Warner said.

“I want a broader-based capitalism to work for everyone in our country,” Warner said.

Warner said the notion of a legislator as a job is something he is still learning.

“There’s great opportunities and challenges being in the Senate, and trying to get that right is something I’m still working on,” Warner said.

Warburg said he enjoys the opportunity for students to see a politician in class who usually doesn’t talk like a politician.

However, some students, like third-year Batten student Taylor Head, said the lecture was not so candid.

“I was surprised at how politically dressed his answers were,” Head said. “If the cameras and reporters had not been there, I believe that we may have been able to tackle the issues in a more head-on fashion.”

This was Warner’s second visit to a Batten class. The senator has also hosted Batten graduate students in Washington to talk about legislative strategy.

“I want [students] to feel empowered to engage with these issues,” Warburg said. “[Warner] is the embodiment of the fact that you can be empowered.”

Warburg said he stresses a moderate approach to policy and has hosted guests like former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) Hurt will return to speak to Warburg’s class this spring.

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