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Democrats demonize corporations in second debate

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Last night was the second night of the Democrats’ second primary debate. It is the last some candidates will appear on stage, as they likely won’t meet the higher threshold for the third debate in September. But I’ve forgotten all their names already anyway, so lets focus on someone who will be returning: corporations. (Cue spooky thunder sound effect.)

While, of course, everyone took aim at President Trump throughout the debate, many candidates spent as much time going after corporations, which we all know are dark entities composed of otherworldly ichor from an unholy and evil parallel universe, soulless beings who’d just as soon slit your throat for a nickel as sell you product you’d gladly pay for.

No? Yeah, that sounds like Hollywood reject material to me, too, but there was a lot of it across both nights of the debates (see transcripts here and here). Here’s a sample:

Elizabeth Warren:

For decades we have had a trade policy that has been written by giant, multinational corporations to help giant, multinational corporations. They have no loyalty to America. They have no patriotism. If they can save a nickel by moving a job to Mexico, they’ll do it in a heartbeat. If they can continue a polluting plant by moving it to Vietnam, they’ll do it in a heartbeat.

It is giant corporations that have taken our government and that are holding it by the throat, and we need to have the courage to fight back against that.

Bernie Sanders:

If anybody here thinks that corporate America gives one damn about the average American worker, you’re mistaken. If they can save five cents by going to China, Mexico, or Vietnam, or any place else, that’s exactly what they will do.

Marianne Williamson:

[A]n amoral economic system has turned short term profits for huge multinational corporations into a false god and this new false god takes precedence over the safety and the health and the wellbeing of we, the American people and the people of the world and the planet on which we live.

Kamala Harris:

[T]he pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies last year alon[e] profited $72 billion dollars, and that is on the backs of American families.

Now, to be fair, corporations are no more inherently noble than villiannous. Indeed, we spend a lot of space at this blog pointing to the problem of cronyism — when businesses, unions, and other interests influence laws to favor themselves and exclude would-be competitors. It definitely happens and it is a real problem.

But there wasn’t any of that nuance on display at this debate. Corporations were just universally bad. They were opposed to noble workers, consumers, and unions who were universally good. This cartoonish contrast, unscientifically based on zero empirical evidence, doesn’t belong in the public square.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be a US Senator or self-help guru — in which case you’re probably also running for the Democratic presidential nomination — you or someone close to you probably works for a corporation. Millions of Americans do. Unions could not exist without corporations. Get rid of the corporations and there are no jobs for workers, no contracts to collectively bargain for, no incomes or wealth to tax to provide the laundry list of expanded government programs these candidates are promising. As Pope Leo XIII put it, there are “mutual relations of employers and employed.” Corporations wouldn’t exist without their workers either. What is needed is not stirring up enmity à la Marx, but “to infuse a spirit of equity” with one another.

Take just a moment and ask: When politicians rant about the categorical evil of all corporations, can you really go along with that? Does that describe your job? How about all the corporations that produce all the products you and your family enjoy every day? Sure, there are bad corporations, and when they break the law, it is the state’s duty to bring them to justice. But that isn’t the message of these candidates. They want people to believe that corporations, just for being corporations, are resolutely sinister, always scheming for a way to provide a worse product to consumers, a worse contract to workers, or ship production overseas and anthropomorphically laugh while they mail you your pink slip, just to “save a nickel.”

That doesn’t sound right to me. I can’t just say, “Enron, Pepsi, GM, Duracell, Amazon, Trader Joe’s — they’re all the same to me!” They are manifestly not all the same. Determining what makes some corporations to be infused by “a spirit of equity” and what leads others to give the business world a bad name through their shady practices requires something that was unfortunately, for the most part, absent from these debates: economic literacy.

Hopefully it won’t be missing in action come September, but I’m not holding my breath.


Image: An advertisement for the evil Umbrella Corporation, responsible for unleashing a zombie apocalypse in Capcom’s popular Resident Evil video game series. Source: PlayStation Europe

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ABSTRACT

As a group, entrepreneurs are frequently depicted as greedy, immoral, and cutthroat. This prejudice can be found equally among business and religious leaders, not to mention among cultural elites and individual people. But such criticisms, though justified far too often, fail to acknowledge the implicit spiritual dimension of enterprise, seen particularly in terms of the entrepreneurs creative ability to imagine new possibilities, to maintain a proper concept of stewardship, and to cultivate the earth to harness its potential. While it is true that entrepreneurs like any other group of people have been stained by sin, they must not be judged more severely for their moral failings merely because their profession involves the creation of wealth. Those who consider the entrepreneurial vocation a necessary evil must affirm that the Parable of the Talents lends ample scriptural support to entrepreneurial activity.

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Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.

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