Home Depot Co-Founder Bernie Marcus Challenges CEOs to Fight U.S. Flirtation with Socialism

"They’d better start fighting and get off their rear ends," the 90-year-old Marcus tells Chief Executive. "But I’m afraid that in this environment a lot of CEOs are afraid of fighting."

Every time he hears a new, multi-trillion-dollar government-spending promise by a Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Marcus grows more determined to fight the ideas behind it. But the co-founder of Home Depot isn’t so sure the rest of America’s CEOs are ready to do battle against what Marcus sees as a real threat to the U.S. economy from socialist thinking.

“They’d better start fighting and get off their rear ends,” the 90-year-old Marcus told Chief Executive. “Guys my age didn’t hesitate to fight the battles that had to be fought. But I’m afraid that in this environment, with social media, a lot of CEOs are afraid of fighting.”

Marcus co-founded Job Creators Network (JCN) nearly a decade ago to promote free-market capitalism and rally everyone from small-business owners to Fortune 500 CEOs in its defense. The not-for-profit organization has played key roles in episodes such as generating support and political pressure for the tax cuts passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in late 2017, and for Trump’s broad deregulation of American business since the day he took office.

In a U.S. economy with nearly full employment, increases in real wages, quiescent inflation and other hallmarks of prosperity, Marcus doesn’t discount the potential of socialist ideology to disrupt all of it.

“It has hit an emotional chord with a lot of people, especially millennials, who don’t quite understand that with every dollar you give, someone has to earn that dollar,” Marcus said. “And the media is [promoting] it because of their hatred of Trump. If there wasn’t Trump in the White House today, these people wouldn’t be gaining any kind of popularity out there. He’s become the focal point of any kind of policy prescription out there, because they want to oppose him. But socialism isn’t the answer.

“People are running for president who are making promises that can’t be kept,” he continued. “Anyone with half a brain understands that you can’t give everything away and pay for it out of rich people’s money. They could come to me and take every cent I have and, with every other billionaire out there, it would cover about three months of what they want to give. With what they want to do, the middle class and even the poor are going to have to pay for it.”

One of the biggest issues these days for JCN is to oppose efforts to impose $15-an-hour minimum wages across the country. “If we went to that, I can’t tell you how many small businesses would disappear overnight,” Marcus said. “Thousands of jobs would be gone.”

To that end, JCN is “asking small and medium-sized businesses to share information with their employees, because their employees in many cases are voting against them. The [business owners] need to understand that when they vote for higher taxes, their Coke and hamburgers and rent will cost more money. [But] in many cases, CEOs are afraid to show their faces [because] they know they’ll be attacked by the liberal media and on social media.”

Similarly, Marcus opposes last year’s declaration by the Business Roundtable of 181 U.S. CEOs that American companies should formally expand their goals to meet the concerns of constituencies beyond shareholders, to include employees, communities and other “stakeholders” as well.

“At Home Depot, we took very good care of our associates,” said Marcus, who was first CEO of Atlanta-based Home Depot and retired as its chairman in 2002. “If they [experienced] trouble, we were there for them. We don’t need a roundtable to tell CEOs what to do. That’s just good business. This whole thing is just a defense mechanism that the Business Roundtable is using against people like Elizabeth Warren who are running for president.

“If she’s elected, you can say goodbye to the corporate world. She’s saying, ‘Adios, capitalism’ and ‘Hello, socialism,'” Marcus said. “If you are the CEO of a company and you stand by and let this thing happen right in front of your eyes and don’t fight back in some way, you’re a coward.”