The audacity of corporate cronies

It’s almost a cliché to call small business the backbone of the US economy, but it happens to be true. According to Inc. Magazine, in 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses in the US, compared to just 18,500 companies of 500 employees or more. Small businesses employ almost half the nation’s private sector workforce, and since 1995 have created two out of every three net new jobs in this country. They’re also more innovative than their larger counterparts, with small tech firms producing 16 times more patents than large firms, and accounting for 43 percent of high tech employment.

Yet when it comes to a “voice” for business, we typically default to the leaders of the largest businesses in the world – people who, as a rule, do not have our interests at heart, and who don’t hesitate to use their megaphones to advance their interests at the expense of ours.

Take, for example, Jeff Immelt of GE, a company that represents everything that’s wrong with big businesses.

Under Jack Welch, Immelt’s predecessor, GE was a pioneer in outsourcing US jobs, with Welch saying that ““Ideally you’d have every plant you own on a barge to move with currencies and changes in the economy,” and that their parts suppliers needed to “migrate or be out of business.” Under Immelt, the company holds record levels of cash offshore – $119 billion in 2016 – and paid an effective federal income tax rate of -1.6 percent on $58 billion in profits over the past ten years. And they are the ultimate in crony capitalists. In 2011, Forbes writer Dan Ikenson highlighted the following excerpts from the DC Examiner:

Tim Carney gave his impressions of this budding relationship between GE and the Obama administration in the DC Examiner last July:

First, there’s the policy overlap: Obama wants cap-and-trade, GE wants cap-and-trade. Obama subsidizes embryonic stem-cell research, GE launches an embryonic stem-cell business. Obama calls for rail subsidies, GE hires Linda Daschle [wife of former South Dakota Senator and Obama confidante Tom Dachle] as a rail lobbyist. Obama gives a speeeh, GE employee Chris Matthews feels a thrill up his leg. I could go on.

And Carney does go on in a December 2009 Examiner piece:

Look at any major Obama policy initiative — healthcare reform, climate-change regulation, embryonic stem-cell research, infrastructure stimulus, electrical transmission smart-grids — and you’ll find GE has set up shop, angling for a way to pocket government handouts, gain business through mandates, or profit from government regulation.

And yet, when we look for someone to speak on behalf of business, Jeff Immelt somehow grabs hold of the mic and purports to speak on their behalf. It’s true in government circles – Immelt sat on Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and now sits on Trump’s new manufacturing council – and it’s true in the public forum.

Two days ago, for example, he gave remarks to students at Georgetown. And, under the guise of advancing the American Way, advocated yet again for globalism, talking GE’s book.

He asks the question: “How did an ideal so connected to American influence and success become so demonized?” He offers some platitudes – we could have done it better – but later, his own hubris shows why when he says, “I don’t listen to people who have no global context, never been in a factory or don’t want to compete.” In other words, if you’re not already an offshoring globalist, screw your opinion.

His solution to our challenges? More globalism and more government intervention. Other companies should hire more talent overseas and produce in those markets. The US government needs to invest in infrastructure. Business should have more access to capital, especially government-backed capital. And of course we should lower business taxes in the US.

There’s nothing wrong with Jeff Immelt talking his book; that’s his job as CEO of his company. But there’s something tremendously wrong with any of us giving credibility to a self-serving globalist crony capitalist when he pretends to speak to our interests.

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