Ascendance of Paul Ryan and Hillary Clinton Equals Big Win for Big Business

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Ascendance of Paul Ryan and Hillary Clinton Equals Big Win for Big Business

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, could find room for agreement if Clinton is elected president.

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 Ryan.

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 secure 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 insurgency.

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 Reich

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at

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