Sen. Bernie Sanders called JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon the “biggest corporate socialist in America today” in a recent ad.
He may have a point – beyond what he intended.
With his Dimon ad, Sanders is referring specifically to the bailouts JPMorgan and other banks took from the government during the 2008 financial crisis. But accepting government bailouts and corporate welfare is not the only way I believe American companies behave like closet socialists despite their professed love of free markets.
In reality, most big U.S. companies operate internally in ways Karl Marx would applaud as remarkably close to socialist-style central planning. Not only that, corporate America has arguably become a laboratory of innovation in socialist governance, as I show in my own research.
In public, CEOs like Dimon attack socialist planning while defending free markets.
But inside JPMorgan and most other big corporations, market competition is subordinated to planning. These big companies often contain dozens of business units and sometimes thousands. Instead of letting these units compete among themselves, CEOs typically direct a strategic planning process to ensure they cooperate to achieve the best outcomes for the corporation as a whole.
This is just how a socialist economy is intended to operate. The government would conduct economy-wide planning and set goals for each industry and enterprise, aiming to achieve the best outcome for society as a whole.
And just as companies rely internally on planned cooperation to meet goals and overcome challenges, the U.S. economy could use this harmony to overcome the existential crisis of our age – climate change. It’s a challenge so massive and urgent that it will require every part of the economy to work together with government in order to address it.
Overcoming socialism’s past problems
But, of course, socialism doesn’t have a good track record.
One of the reasons socialist planning failed in the old Soviet Union, for example, was that it was so top-down that it lacked the kind of popular legitimacy that democracy grants a government. As a result, bureaucrats overseeing the planning process could not get reliable information about the real opportunities and challenges experienced by enterprises or citizens.
Moreover, enterprises had little incentive to strive to meet their assigned objectives, especially when they had so little involvement in formulating them.
A second reason the USSR didn’t survive was that its authoritarian system failed to motivate either workers or entrepreneurs. As a result, even though the government funded basic science generously, Soviet industry was a laggard in innovation.
Ironically, corporations – those singular products of capitalism – are showing how these and other problems of socialist planning can be surmounted.