Democrats on Corporations

Ryan Heshmati

April 19, 2024

The Democratic party is facing a significant challenge in a continued reliance on rhetoric that villainizes corporations. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a pioneer of the Democrats’ progressive push in recent years, famously asserted, “No one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.” This anti-billionaire and anti-big-business messaging could prove dangerous if it moves the party too far beyond the mainstream. With the 2024 presidential election drawing near and economic issues serving as 28% of Americans’ top issue, according to Data for Progress, Democrats need to carefully consider their policy on American business.

It is important to consider what many Americans view billionaires and multi-billion dollar corporations to mean to the country’s economy: jobs, prosperity, value, and growth. Amazon is one example that substantiates that view: Jeff Bezos did not steal billions from consumers but rather built a platform that delivered value to them to such a degree that they felt it was worth parting with their money in order to make purchases through it. Bernie Sanders looks at American businesses differently, though, with his website claiming, “The reality is that today the executives and biggest shareholders of most large, profitable corporations could not give a damn about the working class or the communities in which our corporations operate.” Consequently, Sanders, along with many others in the progressive wing of the Democratic party, calls for heavier taxes and regulations.

However, anti-corporate sentiment does not stop with the progressive wing of the party. President Biden blamed corporations for “shrinkflation” (prices of goods remaining constant while contents shrink) around the Super Bowl and now calls for an increase in corporate tax to 28%. Corporations are looking ahead to an uncertain business landscape, with inflation refusing to fall to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target and thus high interest rates. Nevertheless, a potentially higher corporate tax adds to the concerns facing corporations seeking to navigate the current environment without cutting their workforce or employee pay.

Of course, corporations are far from perfect. American history is filled with unfair practices by large corporations in order to strengthen profits and underpay workers, but the 21st century is distinct from the age of robber barons. The Democratic party may have to exercise caution in their rhetoric against corporations moving into the election cycle as voters keep the health of the economy at the forefront of their minds. AOC and Bernie Sanders certainly do not represent the viewpoints of the party leadership, but their attitudes on corporations are nonetheless significant. As Biden gears up for November, he might need to be particularly careful in how he frames the discussion of American businesses to remain appealing to a majority of American voters, especially those in swing states.