Size matters. Well, there’s no question about that, but does size matter in a good way or a bad way?
Back when Franklin Roosevelt was instituting his New Deal, he was clear, his aim was limiting the prerogatives of size, taming big corporations and big banks, by “securing economic freedom for the wage earner and the farmer and the small-business man.”
For our guest today, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, perhaps the key words in that quotation were FCR’s two “ands” – “the wage earner and the farmer and the small-business man.”
President Franklin Roosevelt helped create a new economy and a new society and an overwhelming new electoral majority for his Democratic Party by emphasizing that linkage of the less-powerful people in America.
The history of the past 88 years has shown, the real linkage behind the Roosevelt coalition was a shared interest of industrial workers, in-the-fields farmers and Main Street businesses in being protected from the crushing oppression of industrial scale.
The history of the past 44 years has seen the abandonment of the FDR coalition by the so-called neoliberals of the Democratic Party, starting with the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, and continuing with higher and higher self-approval, from Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
For these neo-liberals, bigness was a good thing. Big multi-national corporations, the theory went, produce lots of jobs, and the efficiencies of concentrated market power let cheaper consumer goods raise standards and lower costs of everyday living. And big corporations were perfect partners for big labor unions.
Driving this reversal of political orientation was big money, from big donors, funneled by groups like the Democratic Leadership Conference, which underwrote the careers of Bill Clinton, and his would-be successors Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, not to mention his actual successors Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
A perfect summation of this “new democratic policy,” Stacy Mitchell pointed out in a recent article in The Nation, was a change in language promulgated in 2001 by then-Chairman John Kerry who retitled his Senate Committee on Small Business, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, implying that the real business of small business was to get bigger.
To a lot of small businesspeople and family farmers, the message in the word change was – “Get lost, the Democratic coalition no longer needs you.” The Republicans offered a different approach – “Find us, and join a new GOP coalition of people in businesses, large and small, against the oppression of big government, big regulation, higher taxes and we’ll grow a lot of wealth together.
But growing wealth and sharing it are two very different things, and the hallmark of neoliberal policies under Republicans and Democrats has been a radical rise in inequality. And who’s been getting the least equal shares of the national wealth? Wage-earners, small farmers, and people with small and medium-scaled businesses.
Maybe, says Stacy Mitchell, it’s time for those economic victims to rejoin their old alliance; maybe they and their predicament – made many times worse by the COVID-19 pandemic – could remake the Democratic Party into something less like Carter/Clinton/Gore/Obama’s and more like Franklin Roosevelt’s.
Stacy Mitchell is co–executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which produces research and advocates policies that counter concentrated power and strengthen local economies. She is the author of the book Big-Box Swindle and has produced several influential reports, including “Amazon’s Monopoly Tollbooth” and “Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business.”
She recently published in The Nation.