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How a billionaire hedgie hopes to fix corporate America

·Senior Columnist

What’s wrong with big business?

Some CEOs would say nothing, yet there are telling signs to the contrary. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders draw roars of approval when they bash big banks, crony capitalists and companies moving jobs to China and Mexico. Just 21% of Americans say they trust big business, down from peaks in the low 30s when Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were president. And the Treasury Department just cracked down on a popular strategy for dodging corporate taxes, an unusual act of aggression that could only happen with mainstream public support.

A new nonprofit group called Just Capital now hopes to harness the power of corporate America—to reform itself. The group is the brainchild of billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, and its mission is to assure that free markets are “used as a force for good in the world.” In addition to Jones, board members include media mogul Arianna Huffington, wellness guru Deepak Chopra and several CEOs.

“If you’re going to address the large-scale, systemic, social and environmental challenges we have as a country, we’ve got to get the private sector involved,” Martin Whittaker, the group’s CEO, explains in the video above. “You’ve got to motivate the market to channel resources and capital and talent to address these issues.”

Just Capital’s first big splash will be a "justness" list, coming this fall, ranking America’s largest companies from most just to least. To determine what just behavior is, exactly, the group surveyed 43,000 people last year asking them what they expect from corporations. “The No. 1 thing Americans felt companies need to prioritize are employee pay and benefits,” Whittaker says. “People were absolutely united regardless of political stripe in their lack of trust in corporations today.”

The group’s timing is obviously good. The surprise popularity of Trump, the Republican and Sanders, the Democrat—each tapping into deep public anger with how the U.S. economy is being run – have put big companies in the crosshairs. Sanders wants to break up Wall Street banks, a once-capricious notion that is now getting serious thought. Trump has questioned the value of free trade—and so have some prominent economists.

Concern with corporate behavior might blow over, and the status quo prevail. But public anger can also be a precursor to tougher regulation, higher taxes and lower profits. That alone is one good reason for the corporate sector to pay attention to the protestations of Trump, Sanders, Main Street—and even a few of its own.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.