In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election and inauguration, former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders urged Democrats to remake themselves as warriors in opposition to big business as the strategy for winning back voters.
“We need to … make it crystal clear that the Democratic Party is going to take on Wall Street, it’s going to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s going to take on corporate America that is shutting down plants in this country and moving our jobs abroad,” Sanders said on CNN in February 2017.
Many progressives have taken that advice to heart. As in many past election cycles, corporate- bashing rhetoric has been the bread-and-butter of many progressive candidates and their supporters pressing for greater governmental intervention on issues such as corporate governance, wages, and worker benefits.
The grassroots group “Justice Democrats,” for instance, is so far endorsing 52 candidates they say “represent people, not corporations,” while “putting Main Street before Wall Street” has become a reliable campaign trope. Other activist organizations are rallying their constituencies against “powerful CEOs” who have been “rigging the economy against working families for decades.”
These instincts are understandable, given the many ways the nation’s current prosperity seems to be bypassing average Americans. Corporate earnings have hit their highest mark since 2011, yet wage growth has been sluggish. Newly mandated disclosures reveal eye-popping disparities between CEO and worker salaries – one study finds the median CEO now makes 140 times as much as the median employee. Many Americans – particularly “gig” workers – seem cast adrift on the economy, with less access to traditional employer-sponsored benefits such as health care and retirement.
But, as a comprehensive economic message and agenda, “fighting big business” unfortunately won’t lead to the kinds of policies workers need.