While the age of the superhero movie seems to be at its peak, Americans should be paying more attention to a different class of superheroes: “investment heroes.”
That’s the term used in an October report from the Progressive Policy Institute to describe the 25 companies that have invested the most into the U.S. economy over the past year.
These investment heroes support the American economy by “making long-term domestic investments in buildings, equipment, and software,” say authors Michelle Di Ionno and Michael Mandel, “helping raise productivity and wages across the country.”
According to the report, the top 25 investment heroes together put almost $177 billion into the U.S. economy in 2015—a 2.9 percent increase from 2014. AT&T topped the chart with $18.7 billion invested. Its rival, Verizon, came in a close second with $16.5 billion. Exxon Mobil placed third with nearly $11 billion.
The full list of 25 heroes is as follows:
- AT&T ($18.7 B)
- Verizon ($16.5 B)
- Exxon Mobil ($11 B)
- Energy Transfer Equity ($9.4 B)
- Chevron ($8.5 B)
- Wal-Mart ($8.5 B)
- Alphabet ($8.4 B)
- Comcast ($8.3 B)
- Exelon ($7.6 B)
- Duke Energy ($6.6 B)
- Apple ($6.4 B)
- American Airlines Group ($6.1 B)
- Phillips 66 ($5.7 B)
- Microsoft ($5.6 B)
- Amazon.com ($5.4 B)
- General Motors ($5.4 B)
- ConocoPhillips ($5.1 B)
- Intel ($4.8 B)
- Union Pacific ($4.6 B)
- FedEx ($4.4 B)
- Time Warner Cable ($4.4 B)
- Ford Motor ($4 B)
- Enterprise Product Partners ($3.8 B)
- General Electric ($3.5 B)
- Freeport-McMoRan ($3.4 B)
Despite this robust investment, capital spending is still sluggish in much of the rest of the economy—what Mandel and Di Ionno call an “investment drought.” And even their “heroes” may be slowing down: AT&T’s investment last year, for instance, was down about 10 percent from 2014.
So what should policymakers do to encourage more investment? The answer doesn’t lie in government subsidies or other such interventions. Rather, the authors urge policymakers to “stay out of the way,” pointing specifically to regulation at the federal and state levels.
You don’t have to look far for examples of such investment-discouraging red tape. For example: The Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” rules adopted in early 2015 were aimed directly at top investors such as AT&T and Verizon, putting the return on their investment further at risk.
“We need,” the Progressive Policy Institute authors say, “a policy framework that favors systemic improvement of the regulatory system … ” Specifically, they recommend a Regulatory Improvement Commission to erase outdated and redundant regulations.
Additionally, they urge reductions in red tape at the local level, which, as they point out, often ties down large investment projects such as upgrading old networks and buildings.
Such policy reforms would be a welcome change from the constant increases in red tape seen during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Now, we need heroes among our policymakers who are willing to reduce harmful rules and to get out of the way of private sector investment.