Democrats Are The Party of Economic Fairness
President Biden has opened a new battlefront in the economic public debate.
Why are so many voters not feeling our message on economics? To many, our economic system feels increasingly unstable and unfair. People just want our private sector to live up to its side of the deal: We work hard. You pay us enough to live on, with a little breathing room. Maybe voters just want political leaders to stand up to big business on their behalf, to make and enforce rules that will make our economy more fair? President Biden is actually doing that. How do we talk about that in our public debate?
It’s hard to talk about “the economy.” For some people, things are just fine. To others, things have never been worse. Some people in our coalition don’t like to hear criticism of corporate America, and others think late-stage capitalism is unredeemable and will soon be replaced.
One thing is clear: the majority of Americans of both parties are fed up with big corporations. Inequality is reaching levels not seen since the robber baron era. The gap between the super-rich and everyone else keeps getting bigger. Voters on both sides of the aisle name “the influence of money in politics” as their top concern. They overwhelmingly support raising taxes on the rich. Messaging about “standing up to corporate monopolies” tests off the charts.
What is our message to voters? When the economy fails you, we’re here to catch your fall. Why isn’t this message connecting? Maybe people don’t want to get run over and then patched up. Maybe they want to not get run over in the first place.
We all want fairness. We want respect. We want our initiative and hard work rewarded. We don’t want to be left behind for reasons outside of our control. We all want to know that our loved ones are going to be okay. We don’t want to live our entire lives on a knife edge of economic fear.
We have a responsibility to use our government to promote economic fairness. Here’s the thing: We’re already doing it. So why aren’t we talking about it?
Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!
I talk a lot about the domination of market fundamentalist rhetoric in our public debate and the myths our society has internalized. One of the most harmful and persistent myths is that “the market” exists independently of government and would work best if government stayed out of its way.
Between the housing market crash and the Great Recession, the Covid Crash and inflation, supply-chain failures, blatant price gouging, Texas power grid failure, WeWork fail, Theranos fraud, FTX crypto collapse, airline system crashes, topped by billionaires losing record billions due to bad choices and asinine behavior, it’s no wonder that the American people have lost faith in the “infallibility” of the market and the “wisdom” of corporate elites.
Unfortunately, our public debate is stuck in “false choice” mode. The Right insists that the only alternative to free-market capitalism is totalitarian socialism.
When we talk about liberalism, progressivism, or European style democratic socialism, we’re usually talking about a robust program of social insurance and public investment.
The market often fails people, and we, through government, need to meet each other’s needs. We talk about protecting these programs and expanding them to cover more of our needs, like our care infrastructure: health care, child care and elder care. We also talk about investing in things like infrastructure, research and economic stimulus. We talk about these as public benefits and resources that everybody, including businesses, benefit from.
This is a critically important debate and a fight we have to keep fighting.
The Missing Piece
Both of these dialogues contain an assumption about the private sector, which is that “the private sector is going to do what the private sector is going to do.” Supposedly, our only choices are whether to do nothing or use government to mop up the damage, and if so, how much we should spend, and who should pay for it.
We’re so busy fighting that battle that we’re not talking enough about the other battle: making the private sector behave better. The economic part of the social contract is seriously broken and people want somebody to do something about it.
People want economic fairness.
The American people want us to stand up to economic bullies. They want us to push back against the influence that money has on our political process. They want us to do what is necessary to keep our economic system stable and make it fair. They want us to make the private sector live up to their side of the deal that they have been promised their whole lives.
People want our democratic, cooperative government to do more to intervene in the market on behalf of the American people. The big secret is that we are. The big problem is that it’s a big secret!
Delivering the right good news.
We usually talk about what is going right with the economy in terms of the big numbers. We’d like to talk about how the GDP is up and unemployment is at a record low. But as we have learned in the past, what matters is how people feel about the economy.
We have to talk about good macroeconomic news in the context of a bigger picture in which concentrated economic power is having a crushing impact on people’s daily lives. How do we do that? Our best message right now is:
The Biden administration, with the support of most Democrats in congress, has stood up to corporate power in ways not seen in decades.
The President has renewed support for labor rights. We’re seeing aggressive anti-trust enforcement. President Biden re-regulated the shipping industry. When was the last time we re-regulated an industry? Now we’re going after Ticketmaster and working to ban non-compete clauses. What do all of these things have in common? They are all about economic fairness.
Sometimes, a gift falls from writer heaven.
I was just wishing that I had could get some help to research more of these efforts. As if by magic, Heather Cox Richardson sent out this brilliant compendium of Democratic efforts to curtail the concentration of economic power:
“Biden vowed to change the direction of the government’s role in the economy, bringing back competition for small businesses, workers, and consumers. Very deliberately, he reclaimed the country’s long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both presidents Roosevelt—Republican Theodore, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses and then by championing competition.”
She also references this article in The American Prospect: A Pitched Battle on Corporate Power by David Dayen, outlining the success of President Biden’s 72-part Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy from July of 2021. Here are just a few highlights:
Blocked mergers in the publishing industry and defense contractors.
Sued poultry processors who colluded to deny workers millions in wages.
Blocked companies from buying up potential future competitors.
Blocked alcohol distributors from blocking small breweries access to markets.
Allowed people to buy hearing aids without a prescription.
Retroactively investigating mergers that were approved, but shouldn't have been.
Started FarmerFairness.com, a one-stop shop for farmers to fight unfair practices by big agribusiness.
Providing USDA grants for small meatpackers.
Banning "junk fees" from hotels, banks and others.
Punishing companies for gouging prisoners and other "captive markets."
Including "monopsony" in anti-trust investigations. (Monopsony is the concentration of buyer power, as in the power Amazon has over millions of authors and other suppliers.)
Why am I hearing about most of these for the first time? This is a huge deal. We should study this. We should write a column and make a graphic for every single one of these efforts, whether they succeeded or not. And in single every one, we should connect it back to the theme of “Democrats fighting for economic fairness.”
“Economic fairness” is one of the big themes we need to talk to voters about, so they can learn how our individual actions are connected to our larger core values.
We should talk about all of these different actions in terms of “standing up to corporations on the behalf of the American people.” If we keep connecting back to these themes, eventually through repetition, people will come to associate “economic fairness” and “standing up to corporations on the behalf of the American people” with Democrats and the Democratic party.
The Bottom Line
We say that the economy is doing well as a whole. We argue on behalf of protecting and expanding safety nets and the investments we are making in the American economy. While market fundamentalists push their free-market myths, we defend our efforts to clean up the mess the private sector leaves behind. All of these are critically important, but they aren’t necessarily connecting with many American voters.
If we want to reach the people out there whose lives are being squeezed by the growing concentration of wealth and power, we have to talk to them about the many ways we actually are standing up to that wealth and power. We have to connect all these efforts under the big theme of “economic fairness.”
We need to communicate to the American people that we hear them, we understand what they are going through, and that they can count on Democrats to fight for them.
Thanks for reading, subscribing, and for everything you do!
As always, I welcome your feedback. In fact, I invite you to make your best case that I am wrong. It will help me strengthen my reasoning or I will admit that I am wrong and change my position. Either way, the end result will be better. Play devil’s advocate. Game out right-wing response strategies. Hit from the Left. Go for it. I need the mental exercise.
That doesn’t mean you should stop the positive comments. I still love the positive comments and really appreciate the moral support!
Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this important mission!
What is Democrats’ version of “free markets, low taxes and strong defense?”
Antonia Scatton, Reframing America (Substack), December 19, 2022
What Democrats Believe: Economies are for People.
Antonia Scatton, Reframing America (Substack), November 29, 2022
Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American (Substack), January 25, 2023,
A Pitched Battle on Corporate Power
David Dayen, The American Prospect, January 25, 2023
Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy
The White House, July 9, 2021
FTC Proposes Rule to Ban Noncompete Clauses, Which Hurt Workers and Harm Competition. Agency estimates new rule could increase workers’ earnings by nearly $300 billion per year. Submit Public Comments here.