S.E. Cupp interviews entrepreneur Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks
Cuban is an Ayn Rand fan and libertarian, but he takes some surprising positions
He favors Obamacare, jumbo soda bans, raising the minimum wage for some
Cupp says Cuban resists being put into an ideological box
Editor’s Note: S.E. Cupp is co-host of “Crossfire,” which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays on CNN. She is also the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right,” a columnist at the New York Daily News and a political commentator for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I thought I knew Mark Cuban, too. When someone’s got a mouth like his, it’s hard to imagine that there’s much mystery left or that anything is saved for close company. But in fact, Cuban surprisingly leaves a lot off the table and, like any good showman, tells you just enough to leave you wanting more.
He’s worth billions ($2.6 billion, in fact), which you probably did know. He’s owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Magnolia Pictures and Landmark Theaters, star of ABC’s investor competition show “Shark Tank” and chairman of HDTV network AXS TV and sold his first company, MicroSolutions, for $6 million. His next, broadcast.com, was bought by Yahoo for $5.7 billion.
But you probably knew most of that, too. Because he’s told you all about it.
When it comes to his politics, though, he’s a much tougher nut to crack. He’s said that he considers himself an “independent, leaning to libertarian,” who’s read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” three times.
But one can hardly imagine Rand extolling the patriotic virtues of paying taxes – which she likened to government theft – as Cuban has. Or urging Michael Bloomberg, the world’s most invasive manny, to run for president, which Cuban also did.
A big admirer of Cuban’s candor, his undeniable business acumen and, yes, some of his politics, I wanted to reconcile a number of the contradictions. So I e-mailed him. And we began a conversation meant to produce some clarity.
What I soon realized, as will you if you keep reading, is that Cuban will not be put in a box. Obamacare? He loves it. Rand Paul? Not so much. Raise the minimum wage? Yep. Equal pay? Not so fast. Would he ever enter politics? His response is not suitable for print.
What follows is the conversation we had via e-mail (until he got me to switch over to his newest investment app, Cyber Dust. But more on that later).
To start, I asked where he stood on some of the big problems that Washington is trying with some futility to solve.
S.E. Cupp: As someone who’s run companies and managed people, what are your thoughts on paid family leave?
Mark Cuban: I’m for it in my companies unless it’s still a tiny startup where paying for an employee who isn’t working could have severe consequences and could result in the company facing severe hardship and the parent … losing their job. Few startups have enough capital to pay twice for the same work. But if the parent can do their job from home and care for their child, I’m all for it.
The question you didn’t ask me is whether or not it should be mandated. The answer to that is that I prefer not. Paid company leave is a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring. The problem is that for companies where employees are, for lack of a better word, fungible, (they’re) taken advantage of, and the employer is perfectly fine with firing the employee rather than paying for leave. The problem with that for society is not only the impact on the employee and their family but the cost to society in both financial and absolute terms.
I’m a big believer that the risk never leaves the system. Remember that line; you will hear it from me a lot. Just because the employer chooses not to accept the cost or risk doesn’t mean the risk and cost no longer exist. They have just pushed the risk on to everyone else.
Of course, the argument could be made that the employee created the risk in the first place and should accept responsibility. But we all know that not all are able to accept that which they create.
(This) creates the moral and financial dilemma for us all. How do we hold people responsible for their actions without shooting ourselves in the foot by shifting the risk from corporations to all Americans who will suffer from undereducated, undernourished, overweight children who are more likely to have any number of other problems which inflict costs (financial and other) on society?
The risk never leaves the system unless you pre-empt the risk when it occurs.
Cupp: So are you in favor of voluntarily, but not mandatorily, raising the minimum wage as well?
Cuban: For food service industry and retail, I’m for the minimum wage being increased to at least $12.
Not for manufacturing.
Software and robotics are going to revolutionize manufacturing in the next 10 years. In the meantime, we have to compete with overseas manufacturing. Until then, I think it is better to support our companies that compete in the manufacturing space and allow the market to set wages.
Currently, all taxpayers subsidize low-wage earners. Minimum wage employees are most likely to use and require public services, which means we as taxpayers have to pay more in taxes, and those taxes go into programs where our tax money is spent very inefficiently. I would rather have the costs of consumer goods and restaurants – products we as consumers can choose to buy or not buy – go up and the need for public services go down.
But again, I will qualify this and all my answers: I haven’t done a deep dive study. This is just opinion-based.
Cupp: So stipulated. Where do you stand on Obamacare?
Cuban: I love the concept. The execution, to this point, has been miserable. Part of that misery is because of the tech issues it has faced; the others are because of the choices states have made to opt in or out.
I will repeat my mantra: The risk never leaves the system.
As a country, we have chosen to not let people die on the streets or suffer. We as Americans have chosen to help our fellow citizens when in need. Right now, I believe the past approach of letting insurance companies skim the most profitable customers off the top and let all of us pay for the rest in the most inefficient manner possible has been a mistake.
We have recognized this with car insurance. No insurance? (Then) you can’t drive. We all share in the cost.
We all share in the cost of air-traffic control. None of us wants to get hijacked. None of us wants a dumbass with an explosive shoe on our plane. So we all have agreed to share the risk and cost of not only paying for security in airports but the cost on productivity and leisure time by having to wait in lines and often choosing to take slower transportation options.
Shouldn’t air travelers exclusively pay for this? No, because a bomb or hijacking scares us all and impacts our quality of life everywhere. Even nonfinancial risk doesn’t leave the system.
With health care, despite the fact that we as a nation have already chosen to provide health care in one form or another to everyone, we have, until Obamacare, chosen to pick the least cost-effective means, a mix of private and public offerings, of providing that care. That makes no sense.
The health insurance industry had the opportunity to pre-empt this problem. They could have expanded coverage. They could have accepted a smaller return on equity. They didn’t.
I think Obamacare will be less efficient than what private health insurance could offer. However, I think when you add the cost of the inefficiencies of Obamacare plus the savings from better health care for those who would have used taxpayer-supported ad hoc health services, we will have a net positive impact both culturally and financially for the country.
And I think we will also see some side benefits of people who find themselves stuck in jobs purely for health care, who will now be able to leave and hopefully some of them will do amazing things and have a positive impact on us all.
Again, I’m not an expert by any means; this is my 20,000-foot view.
Cupp: OK, what about equal pay?
Cuban: Should not be legislated. If you are good enough to compete for a top-level corporate job, you should be smart enough to know what the job pays the other gender and negotiate accordingly.
If you are an employer and you don’t pay an employee market wages, regardless of gender or orientation, you will end up with what you deserve.
Cupp: So, what, if any, should the role of government be in guiding innovation?
Cuban: That’s a tough one. The problem is that every administration has the same problem that every hedge fund has. You are only as good as the people you hire. It’s not easy to make investment decisions.
So even though I believe there is a place for government investment in technologies or businesses that have a far longer time horizon than what traditional capital will invest in … I think we have to be far, far, far more transparent in who is doing the investments, in what technologies, why and the results over time.
I don’t mind failures. I do mind a lack of transparency.
And I also have to put in a word of caution. We have to be willing to accept the possibility that we could find ourselves with an administration that is just crazy, wanting to invest in things that no one believes has a chance in hell of ever succeeding, but is doing so for political reasons.
If you accept government investment, you have to accept what a wild card will do.
Cupp: Let’s talk about young people. Millennials (18 to 30) are the largest generation in history, and their heroes are in Silicon Valley, not Washington. How do we encourage their innovation and entrepreneurialism?
Cuban: This is the very reason I do “Shark Tank.” It is the most-watched show on TV by families together. Kids from kindergarten through college come up to me every day, wanting to talk about starting a business. The American dream is alive and well.
Cupp: Are young people lazy?
Cuban: They are the exact same as the kids when I was growing up. Just the toys and sources of media/information are different. We had to spend more time getting info and work harder to find learning tools than kids today. But otherwise, it’s apples to apples.
I don’t see any difference.
Cupp: Is a four-year college a good investment today?
Cuban: If you pick the right one, yes. Kids should go to school. But you should only pick a school that you can graduate from with little or no debt. You don’t need a boat anchor of college debt killing your ability to reach your goals.
The biggest drain on our economy today is student debt.
Cupp: What would you do to change that?
Cuban: We should put a limit on the amount of federal guarantees available for student loans. If we started a program that put a limit at $50,000 per year next year, then $40,000 in three years, then $30,000 in six years, down to $10,000 in 10 years, you would see the price of education drop like a rock.
Universities and colleges would merge and find themselves forced to be far more effective. The best analogy I can give you is that student loan guarantees are like the easy money that led to the real estate and financial crash six years ago. Schools raise tuition because they know the money is there.
What the (Obama) administration is doing now to try to slow tuition increases will have a minuscule impact. Put a cap on student loans, and you will find college affordable for everyone very quickly. There may be fewer, more efficient and more targeted schools, but it will be more than supplemented by customized education.
One anecdote: I was speaking to a large group of political supporters. People who had donated a ton to campaigns. I asked them who thought tuitions were too high. Hands went up. I asked which of them had put their name on anything at a college campus. Hands stayed up.
Then I made them realize they were part of the problem. If you donate money to build a building, you aren’t helping; you are hurting. Buildings cost money to maintain. Forever. And ever. They drain resources and don’t create any. Other than special lab environments, a desk or seat for a sociology, business, psychology or writing class works the same in every building.
We don’t need new buildings, new cafeterias, new fitness centers on the campus. Let the local markets take care of those.
What we need is a reasonable cost of education that doesn’t require students to go into debt. When that happens, not only will more kids go to college, but the economy will explode from all the money moving from debt to spending.
Cupp: Let’s get into more dangerous territory. Does political correctness serve a purpose?
Cuban: No idea.
Cupp: C’mon. Seriously? You really have no thoughts on political correctness? Is it a valuable tool to keep a citizenry “refined” or civil? Or is it a muzzle for free speech?
Cuban: It’s a reflection of media. Media, including social media, volume and influencers, really set the tone for what is P.C. or not.
What’s on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, this Twitter or that Twitter, varies by source. So it’s a non-issue to me.
It’s like discussing religion. It’s no-win, and no matter what you believe, more than half the world thinks you are wrong.
Cupp: I’m pretty sure you’re holding back here. But I’ll press you on this another time. Let’s talk more about Washington politics, also dangerous territory. Do you still want Mike Bloomberg to run for president?
Cuban: I would certainly like for him to consider.
Cupp: He’s been criticized – by conservatives, liberals and libertarians – for using the government to curtail choice (soda and cigarette bans, i.e.) and rights (guns and privacy), as well as for using his money to buy political influence. This doesn’t bother you?
Cuban: Even though big soda bans would have cost me money at Landmark theaters, I actually like it.
I’m all for personal choice. But with personal choice comes responsibility. We don’t ask people to accept the consequences of a sugar-heavy diet. If you consume high-sugar, high-calorie drinks, great. But don’t expect taxpayers to subsidize the cost of the health and quality-of-life consequences.
It’s not possible or feasible to ask people to opt out of health services if they choose to make bad health choices, so when something truly has no redeeming value, like cigarettes or a large, full-calorie soda, I have no problem placing restrictions on them.
I realize it could create a crazy set of questions, regarding what else should we ban. Or what about people trying to gain weight? Should we have scales everywhere? And the obvious fear of Big Brother making decisions for us all. The law of unintended consequences could show its teeth.
But what better food stuff to experiment with than high-calorie soda?
I think, bigger picture, technology is going to make us smarter and smarter about the impact of food on our health. And as sensors make it simpler over time to monitor our health in real time, we will find ways to create incentives and disincentives that will help each of us monitor our health and make better choices.
But till then, I’m willing to throw jumbo sodas under the bus and make people have to get off their ass and go back for seconds if they really need that sugar fix.
Cupp: Would you consider running for president?
Cuban: Hell f***ing no.
Cupp: Is Rand Paul the right’s best shot at the White House?
Cuban: I hope not. Dogma is not a solution. There are no absolute answers to any questions that concern the country. I want someone who thinks things through, not someone who refers to a “manual.”
Cupp: Should we legalize marijuana?
Cuban: Yes. And release prisoners who are incarcerated for pot.
Cupp: Well, Rand Paul is pushing for just that kind of sentencing reform. Does that endear him to you any?
Cuban: No. I know people who like beer. So do I. So what?
Cupp: What big ideas are turning you on at the moment?
Cuban: Privacy. I am creating apps that work to reduce your digital footprint. With NLP (natural language processing) and other means of processing everything we say and do online, software and apps will know more about us than anything the NSA could find out about us. What we do online, who we follow, what we text, who we pin or repost will say more about us than we could ever think to tell our shrinks. Today, Freud would be a big data analyst consuming all we post online as a proxy for our dreams.
Cyber Dust (Cuban’s latest start-up venture) is an app that deletes messages you send or read 30 seconds after you read them. No exceptions. We don’t store them on a server anywhere. We don’t store them on your device. They never touch a hard drive. There is no metadata.
They cannot be subpoenaed. They are not discoverable by attorneys. They do not exist after you read them.
Why does this matter? It matters for your kids. I trust my daughter when she texts. I don’t trust the kids I don’t know that she may message. And they may take the most innocent message and post it completely out of context on social media.
It matters because the minute you hit send for a text, you lose ownership. But you do not lose responsibility. You could have texts you sent to a spouse on a phone they use for work that become public because his/her company was sued and all the texts on the phone had to be reviewed.
Privacy matters. And it will only matter more in the future.
From there, Cuban and I continued talking over Cyber Dust (he uses the handle “blogmaverick”). But of course, by design, I can’t tell you what we said or prove that we said it.
While my uncreative, obsessively organized and literal mind very much wants to get a precise fix on Cuban’s politics, he owes me nothing. He’s evidently never running for office, nor is he a political science professor or a pundit. And as he himself acknowledged throughout our conversation, he’s not claiming to be an expert.
Millennials will represent nearly 40% of the voting population by the year 2020, and the race is on to win this crucial voting demographic.