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Mark Cuban for president?

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Story highlights

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.

CNN —  

I’m sure you think you know him. He’s everywhere: on that TV show; courtside; making headlines for saying something, er, colorful; tweeting to his 2.3 million followers.

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.

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp

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.

Cup