What businesses need right now is for the government to eliminate regulations and simplify the tax code, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus said Monday.
“I think that this administration is not friendly to business. I don’t mean they’re not friendly. They just don’t understand what makes business work,” he said on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.”
Marcus, who is retired from the building supply chain and now runs his own foundation, proposed a hands-off approach.
“The entrepreneurs who built the free enterprise system, who built the middle market in the United States without government help basically don’t want government help. They want to be left alone. Cut out the regulations. Let them understand what the tax situation’s going to be. Let them understand what Obamacare is going to cost them. And let them go on and create jobs and hire the people who are unemployed,” he said.
In a past CNBC appearance, Marcus made headlines for a scathing critique of the Obama administration, claiming that Democrats are out of touch with the private sector. He also took aim at Republicans — "Some are crazy." — Goldman Sachs and the rest of Wall Street, whose work in derivatives he said has hurt the country.
On Monday, he took a more measured tone.
“We saw the statistic that 50 percent of graduates with MBAs are unemployed, are working at jobs that they don’t want,” he said. “This is not a great economy. This president has not created jobs. And you can spur all you want, it just hasn’t happened.”
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich agreed with Marcus — on one point.
“It’s not a great economy,” he said. “But I don’t know what exactly Bernie Marcus is complaining about. From a business perspective, this economy has turned way up, profits and earnings, share prices. I mean, if I were the head of a business, I’d be pretty happy with Obama. The people who are unhappy — and I they have a right to be unhappy about the economy — are a lot of working people who have seen their wages go down not because of Obama but because a lot of the ways in which big businesses have created more profits is by cutting payrolls.”
Reich, who served in the Clinton administration and is now a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said that headwinds were coming from elsewhere.
“The real challenge ahead is aggregate demand. There just is not enough of it,” he said. “You’ve got Europe, you’ve got China shrinking in terms of slowing down, and you also have at the same time American consumers dipping into their savings, going deeper into debt. I worry, frankly, about a slowdown before Election Day.”
Marcus said that the economic recession forced companies to make cuts that are still being felt.
“When the economy tanked, they learned to live with less people,” he said, adding that the only growth is happening overseas.
Companies, Marcus added, “have lots of money, and they are producing great profits, but they are not hiring people, and they are not hiring people because of the instability of the economy that they’re looking at.”
Marcus also cited the rising cost of fuel, including gasoline prices.
Asked by host Larry Kudlow whether he blamed President Obama for the economy, Marcus qualified his response.
“Hey, listen. Things happen. I can’t blame everything that happened on him. I mean, he’s inherited some things in 2008,” he said. “But my God, he’s been in the job for three years. He hasn’t made a dent in it, and the policies he’s pursuing now don’t look good for the future.”
In particular, he blasted an effort by the National Labor Relations Board to inform employees of their rights — a rule blocked by a U.S. Court of Appeals last week — as “making it simple for unions to organize.”
Reich challenged that view of labor.
“We’ve had about 30 years after the Second World War when unions got up to about roughly 34 percent of the total workforce, and everybody grew and everybody did well. And we grew on average faster on average than we’ve grown since,” he said.
“One of the problem is consumers don’t have money in their pockets. They don’t have money in their pockets because they don’t have bargaining leverage. They don’t have bargaining leverage partly because they don’t have unions or anybody else sticking up for them. Why assume that unions are a zero-sum game and bad for business? That’s not been the history of America.”
Marcus called Reich’s argument “wrong.”
"The Kudlow Report" airs weeknights at 7 p.m. ET.
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