Comment: GOP will regret its breakup with big business

Its threats against the MLB over Georgia’s elections law aren’t worth the loss of baseball’s fans.

By Tyler Cowen / Bloomberg Opinion

As the author of a book-length love letter to big business, I have long viewed the Republican Party as more aligned with corporate America than are Democrats. That’s certainly the case from a rhetorical standpoint, and on policy as well: It was former President Trump’s administration, after all, that pushed through a significant cut in the corporate income tax rate.

Yes, the real picture is much more complicated. Big business typically wants more high-skilled immigration, which Democrats tend to favor, and the Democratic Party at times has done more for free trade than have Republicans.

In any case, all that has changed. Many U.S. big businesses have sided with Democrats on some aspects of the culture wars, and leading members of the Republican Party have responded with vitriol. In the span of just a few years, they have gone from making apologies for big business to making threats against it.

The final straw may have been Major League Baseball’s decision last week to relocate the All-Star game to Denver from Atlanta over concerns about a new voting-rights law in Georgia. Many Republicans in the state favored the changes, and the response from some Republicans in Congress was to start talking about revoking baseball’s antitrust exemption.

This is what it has come to in 21st-century America: Left-wing activists bully corporations through social media, while right-wing critics threaten them with the law.

Baseball’s relocation of the All-Star game was very likely a business rather than a political decision. If the game had proceed in Atlanta, some of the players undoubtedly would have spoken out against the new voting law or boycotted the game. The event might have been dominated by politics. So baseball followed a common crisis-management strategy, deciding to take one public-relations hit now instead of having to confront a slow drip of unpleasant revelations over the next several months.

There is a simple solution for the Republican Party, if it is interested: Give up its opposition to such voting laws. Even if it opposes some parts of the laws, or if the negative aspects of the laws have been exaggerated, it hardly seems worth the price to be pushed into these ideological corners. Practically speaking, the best evidence suggests that such laws may not be a big deal anyway.

There is also something about baseball itself. This is the institution that so helped race relations in America by clearing the path for Jackie Robinson. You don’t have to agree with MLB’s every decision to see its overall social influence as strongly positive. It is hardly a historical villain in need of restraint.

Beyond sports, there is more evidence of a falling-out between Republicans and big business. When more than 100 major corporate leaders had a conference call last week to discuss what to do about the voting laws in Georgia and elsewhere, J.D. Vance’s response was the social-media equivalent of pounding the table with his shoe. “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons,” tweeted the best-selling author and likely Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio. “We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing.”

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, meanwhile, has put forward a “trust busting” plan to rein in big business. The plan seeks to beef up antitrust prosecution and eliminate mergers and acquisitions for firms of $100 billion or more in value. It is something you might expect from the far left wing of the Democratic Party, not a leading Republican senator.

Of course this isn’t a serious proposal. Do Republicans really want to see Democratic administrations have the dominant hand in antitrust decisions for four or maybe more years? Does the U.S. want to stop major pharmaceutical firms from acquiring smaller, more innovative companies with drugs of potential importance? Hawley’s bill is meant to send a message: “Nice business you’ve got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it.” It is both a plea and a threat about big business’s leftward slide.

I am not seeking to debate Georgia’s voting rights bill, nor those of any other state. But I do know a little about sports. Baseball has long been the least political and most traditional of America’s pastimes, and it has a relatively old fan base. So the question Republicans might want to ask themselves is not how to punish Major League Baseball. It’s how to get it back. Right now, Republicans are moving in exactly the wrong direction.

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.”

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