The Ascendance of Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan Will Mark a Win for Big Business and Wall Street

Marc Nozell / CC BY-NC 2.0; Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Robert Reich /

Hillary Clinton won’t be the only
winner when Donald Trump and his fellow haters are defeated on Election Day (as looks increasingly likely). Another will be Paul Ryan, who will rule the Republican roost.

Democrats may take back the Senate but
they won’t take back the House. Gerrymandering has given House Republicans an
impregnable fortress of safe seats.

This means that in order for President Hillary
Clinton to get anything done, she’ll have to make deals with Speaker Paul

While the Clinton-Ryan years won’t be marked by the same kind of petulant gridlock we’ve witnessed over the last eight, the ascendance of Ryan and Clinton will mark a win for big business and Wall Street over the strongest
anti-establishment surge America has witnessed since Great Depression.

Clinton might be able to
summon Ryan’s support on a “Buffet rule” for the highest-income taxpayers – an
effective minimum tax of 30 percent on top incomes. She might also be able to
wangle some additional spending on infrastructure and paid family leave.

But the price Ryan can be expected
to exact will be lower corporate tax rates, along with a tax amnesty on
corporate profits repatriated to the United States. And to offset the added
spending and tax cuts, Ryan will probably want Clinton to trim Social Security
(perhaps reviving the terrible idea of a “chained” CPI for determining cost of
living increases), and slow the growth of Medicare.

None of this will do much to remedy
the central economic challenge of our era – reversing the declining incomes and
wealth of most Americans.

Although incomes rose in 2015, the
typical household is still worse off today than it was in 2000, adjusted for
inflation. The assets of the typical family today are worth 14 percent less
than the assets of the typical family in 1984. And the typical job is less
than at any time since the Great Depression.

These trends are not sustainable – neither
economically nor politically. They generated the fury that’s
undergirded Trump’s ugly campaign, and fueled the anger that propelled Bernie Sanders’s

They’ve fed a growing sense that
the political-economic system is rigged in favor of those at the top.

And it is. Big money has corrupted
our democracy, resulting in laws and rules that systematically favor big
corporations, Wall Street, and the very rich over everyone else.

Consider, for example, the growing
market power of leading pharmaceutical companies, private health insurers, the biggest
Wall Street banks, giant cable providers, four major airlines, and five largest
high-tech companies. And the decreasing market power of unions. 

The resulting imbalance is transferring
money out of the pockets of average Americans directly into the pockets of
major shareholders and top executives.

A similar upward distribution is
occurring through bankruptcy laws that allow giant corporations and billionaires
to avoid paying what they owe, yet don’t allow average people overburdened with
mortgage or student debt to renegotiate those obligations.

Mandatory arbitration clauses in
contracts with giant corporations are forcing people to give up rights under a
wide variety of consumer and employment laws. Meanwhile, workers classified as
“independent contractors” are losing whatever rights they once had under the
nation’s labor laws.

In all these respects, the American
political economy has become radically imbalanced.

The reforms Hillary Clinton and Paul
Ryan are likely to agree to are miniscule compared with the scale of this imbalance.

Hopefully, the leaders of big
business and Wall Street – the true winners of the 2016 election – will realize
that although they avoided Trump’s authoritarian populism and Sanders’s
“political revolution” this time around, they won’t for much longer.

The forces that gave rise to both
will grow unless our political economy is rebalanced to work for everyone and
not just for those at the top.

There is precedent. In the first
decades of the twentieth century, enlightened business leaders joined with progressive
reformers to rebalance American capitalism – thereby rescuing it from the
savage inequalities and corruption of the Gilded Age.  

If they understand what happened in
the 2016 election, enlightened business leaders will do so once again.

Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the…
Robert Reich

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