Big Business Is Good for America

Why Vilifying Corporations Misses the Point

Even though the Occupy Wall Street protests seem incoherent at times, one main theme is clear: anger at big business. On this count, the occupiers are aligned not only with Hollywood portrayals (predating even the 1941 classic Citizen Kane) but also with mainstream Americans. A majority of respondents to a recent Gallup survey said that they believe big business has too much power. The sentiment held across party lines. The reasons seem simple enough. Business leaders often rank in the top one percent of income earners. Meanwhile, unemployment remains over nine percent -- and is much higher among minorities and young people -- yet corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars in unspent cash.

But this backlash is based on three common misconceptions about major U.S. corporations. The first is that Wall Street and big business are the same thing. When asked separately about "major corporations" and "financial institutions," the same percentage of Americans, 67 percent, agreed that each cluster had too much power. Discontent with Wall Street is understandable. Its practices led to wild lending and the sale of trillions of dollars' worth of toxic assets to unsuspecting investors. When the house of cards crumbled in 2008, the George W. Bush administration was forced to bail out Wall Street.

But none of this explains why Americans are equally displeased with major corporations. The only non-financial bodies that received bailouts were major automobile companies, but their rescue is not the object of much popular protest. The United States is actually less friendly to business than many other countries are -- even the supposedly egalitarian ones such as Canada and Sweden. Washington imposes the second highest corporate tax rate among OECD countries, behind only Japan. And unlike nearly every capital in the world, Washington requires multinationals based in the United States to pay home taxes on profits earned abroad.

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