NEW YORK (AP) -- There were at last count more than 102 million households in America, and soon most of them will own shares in corporate America. The trend is inevitably in that direction.
Not all of them own shares directly, although many millions do. Many hold title instead through 401(k)s, pension plans, mutual funds and other institutional creations.
Truly astounding household sums are involved, again directly or indirectly, in stocks. Mutual funds alone claim 82.8 million individuals in 48.4 million households.
It wasn't always so. In 1950, ownership of corporate equities totaled only $143 billion. Today, mutual funds alone have assets of more than $7 trillion, and most of the growth has been since 1990.
To summarize, ownership of stocks has become the biggest financial phenomenon of the past decade or any decade, a momentous mass migration from the passbook savings account to the stock portfolio.
And so to the point: Are candidates for office on slippery ground in declaring big business to be the enemy? Is their rhetoric just an echo of the past that no longer resonates?
The answers aren't as easy as the enormous investor numbers might suggest. Americans still do distinguish between big business as a vehicle for their investments and big business as a danger.
You can find evidence of it everywhere, in communities where businesses have deserted and moved elsewhere, in polluted sites, in occasional strikes, in anger over poor products and services.
And, understandably, you can always find it among the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged.
Psychologically, big is easily equated with bad. Big is seen as autocratic, unresponsive, uncaring, impersonal. The complaining customer may be a mere number dealing with a corporate counterpart.
The complaints aren't only from individuals. Some of the angriest complainants are other, smaller businesses that feel big businesses seeks their destruction through unfair competition.
Big business is aware of this, of course, and hundreds of large companies have made corrective strides, albeit sometimes only after suits or government action.
Publications regularly rate companies on social behavior, and companies know poor ratings can hurt sales.
But now, poor behavior involves another dimension. People today aren't just customers any more; they are shareholders too. And not just individual shareholders, but capable of acting as a group.
The poor too are not as hopelessly disadvantaged as before. Residing at the financial bottom is not a permanent address. Mobility applies. Today's poor have a chance to become tomorrow's middle class.
In short, the old battle lines have become indistinct. Each, whatever the group, has a stake in the other's success.
The evolution still has a long way to go before the relationship is mature; it isn't a marriage yet, and it might never develop into one. And there'll be spitfire spats again and again.
But you have to wonder if politics is as finely tuned to the public mind as it used to be, when the issues were them against us.
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