ALAN MURRAY is editor of Fortune, overseeing the magazine and website. He spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 28th on a panel called “A New Vision of Corporate Purpose.” Below, Murray shares his thoughts on the presidential election and the changing perception of Corporate America.
The results of the 2016 US presidential election will undoubtedly have a widespread impact on corporate America. Walk us through a couple of the most influential policy proposals we could expect to see from a Clinton or Trump presidency.
Alan Murray: This is the first election in my lifetime when there is no candidate who comes even close to articulating the policies sought by corporate America — which essentially are free trade, increased skilled immigration, improved education, corporate tax cuts, reduced regulation, and balanced budgets. Trump is anti-immigration, anti-trade, has criticized corporations like Ford for moving jobs to Mexico, and has said he doesn’t want to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare. Clinton has turned against the trade plan she already endorsed, and suggested increased regulation beyond the record high levels of the Clinton years.
That said, it’s very hard to predict how either will react when elected. Will Trump surround himself with, and listen to, more traditional GOP advisers? Will Clinton pivot from her left-leaning campaign rhetoric and return to the center? Hard to say.
There is at least a chance, though (hope springs eternal) that if Clinton wins the White House and Republicans retain strong majorities in Congress, you could see Clinton and Rep. Paul Ryan decide it is in both of their interests to make government work again, and hammer out a bipartisan agenda that provides increased support for working Americans, corporate tax reform, and approval of trade agreements.
You’ve covered the business and economics beat for decades. What’s changed in terms of how businesses were run back then compared to today?
AM: There has been dramatic change. Companies used to be strict hierarchies, where information flowed to the top, and then those at the top told everyone else what to do. That doesn’t work today. For one thing, information flows in every direction. For another, change is so rapid that the people on the periphery may be better placed to deal with it. So leaders today are less focused on providing a set of directives for their employees, and more focused on setting a clear mission and values.
Does the public currently have a different perception of corporate America’s role — and its influence — than it did in previous years?
AM: The public’s perception of corporations has declined — as has its perception of most institutions in society. We are reaching the point of crisis; capitalism cannot survive if people don’t believe that it is in their interest. The rising tide needs to lift all boats.
America’s gaping wealth inequality is widely reported and discussed. Do businesses have a responsibility to address economic issues such as wealth and income disparity, and if so, how?
AM: The issue is not inequality per se. The real issue is that incomes for the bottom half of the population has stagnated. Americans were willing to tolerate inequality so long as the rising tide lifts all boats. But today, many people seem to have been stranded.