Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Anti-Corporate Populism Good Politics?

This is putting aside the entirely different question as to whether it's good economics. I wondered about this listening to Biden's speech, which had stronger strands of this kind of language than you usually hear from Obama.

I don't know the answer, and this was a topic I thought about a lot during the campaign. There's a good argument that it doesn't work. Here's that argument, from part of a 2003 internal Dean campaign memo I found in my files:

People strongly identify with the companies where they work, and they vote their identities. Corporations create a bounty of goods and services. They also create jobs and many people work for corporations. Most people strongly identify with the companies where they work and the values instilled at work. And most people work for corporations. (More than half of Americans work for companies with more than 500 employees.) According to analysis of the General Social Survey,

• 82 percent of employees express loyalty toward their company.
• 78 percent say they share the values of their company.
• 90 percent say they are proud to be working for their company.
• These percentages do not differ by gender, race, or blue collar vs. white collar occupations.

Attacking corporations is too easily interpreted as an attack on workers. In addition, recent work in cognitive science demonstrates that people vote their identities, not necessarily their self-interest. General attacks on "big corporations", "big business", and "multi-national corporations" are therefore unnecessary and politically damaging. What is needed is a strategy to attack unethical business practices and features of the system that allow abuses to continue, including Bush's policies and the un-American values behind them, while calling for reforms and a return to honest business practices.

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