Populism, Business, and the Democratic Candidates

Fortune magazine has an article about the rhetoric of some Democratic candidates who attack "Big Business."

One of the certainties—hell, it may be the only certainty—coming out of the first two Democratic contests this year is that the candidates are unanimous about one thing. They know who the enemies are. First, of course, it's the incumbent, the man whose job they all seek—President George W. Bush. The other enemy is … well, actually, the other enemy is … you.

That's you as in corporate America. You're "special interests," you understand (every major candidate uses the phrase); you own the White House and Congress lock, stock, and barrel. You may even work for a "Benedict Arnold" company, as Senator John Kerry starts his riff on the stump, sending your "headquarters to Bermuda and jobs to China'' (as Howard Dean finishes his). Woe unto you if you work for the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry, for insurance companies or a health-care provider, or for Wal-Mart. Sometimes, to hear the Democratic presidential candidates, you almost seem like a bigger threat to America than Osama bin Laden. You sure get mentioned more often than he does.

Then there is this part of the article, which exposes the absurdity of some of the candidates' talking points.

There are, moreover, reasons to suspect that the populism being peddled this year is mainly rhetorical, not real. It's fine to say, as all the Democrats do, that they'd change the tax code to prevent companies from getting any benefit from having their headquarters in Bermuda. But how many "Benedict Arnold" companies are there out there? Of the FORTUNE Global 500, all of three are incorporated in Bermuda. And when John Edwards talks about "two Americas," one in which the "rich" get the finest health care and everyone else has to go to an HMO—or wherever their insurance company tells them to go—the questions just keep on coming: Isn't the point of "managed care" to try to restrain the overall cost of health care? Or, as Edwards seems to imply, should everyone have access to the finest health care available all the time, no matter what it costs? And if so, who pays for that? The government? In any event, the idea that allegedly evil HMOs and insurance companies aren't going to continue to play a huge role in health care is fantasy, no matter who's in the White House.

When people attack business, I often wonder where they think jobs come from. There is an implication by some that business should exist to provide jobs and health care, and that profit is a bad thing because it only benefits the rich. This ignores the fact that the rich have to invest their money somewhere to get a good return, and those investments lead to new companies and a growing economy. The more money the rich have, the more they can invest.

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has a nice post on populism that echos my own views on the subject.