Monday, October 10, 2011

General Electric Uber Alles

If you happened to catch Jeffrey Immelt on 60 Minutes Sunday night, you saw a perfect distillation of the kind of blinkered, self-centered corporate thinking that dominates this country and has brought the world to the disastrous state it’s in.

Immelt, you’ll recall, is the CEO of General Electric and the chairman of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, or the “jobs czar” as he’s called in the glib vernacular of our journalistic elites. I assumed he would be speaking in the latter capacity but he really didn’t, except to offer up the familiar stinky bile about lowering taxes and deregulating industries. In reality the segment was a commercial for the dynamic wonder that is General Electric and its swell and peppy CEO. He was surprisingly candid about where his true priorities lay. This is from an exchange between Immelt and interviewer Lesley Stahl:

Stahl: Shouldn’t American corporations — don’t they have some kind of civic responsibility to create jobs? No?

Immelt: My name is not above the door. I work for investors. Investors want to see us grow earnings and cash flow. They want to see us be competitive. They want to see us prosper.

Obama’s job czar works for investors, not you. His primary allegiance is to GE and its bottom line, not improving the US economy. The shareholders want to see them prosper, they want cash flow. If that means moving operations to China and Brazil, so be it. This is the man that Barack Obama handpicked to head a panel designed to create jobs in the United States.

The whole thing was a pornographic display of everything that is most myopic and destructive about the corporate mind. So GE opens more plants abroad than in the US? That’s just the world we live in. Sixty percent of GE’s business is done overseas? Well, that’s where the customers are. GE hasn’t been paying any taxes? Hey, we’ve had an extraordinary couple of years — we were able to write off $32 billion during the financial crisis! GE sells technology to China that puts US companies at a competitive disadvantage? Don’t be afraid of China, they’re a big market. “I’m a complete globalist,” he says. “I think like a global CEO.”

At one point, we see Immelt giving a pep talk to some of his workers at a plant in Brazil:

I want you to get up everyday and want to beat Caterpillar. I want you to hate the color yellow and do everything you can to make sure we’re winning and beating the competition.

Read that again. It’s the chairman of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness actively rooting for an American company to do poorly. That’s the character of public service in a corporate state.

I’d expect a brainwashed corporate drone like Immelt to talk like this at a shareholder’s meeting. But he’s also a quasi-public official who, theoretically at least, is supposed to put his own personal interests aside for the common good of the country. He isn’t doing so. He doesn’t even seem to think he should. He has so thoroughly accepted the reigning corporate ethos that he doesn’t see the distinction between GE’s interest and the country’s. To him they are one and the same. Which is another way of saying that that which makes Jeffrey Immelt richer is good for America. It’s the mother of all self-interested rationalizations.

Like his counterparts on Wall Street, he’s a true believer. Like them, the range of his thinking never extends beyond the narrow demands of his own business. He’s like a robot that’s programmed to view the totality of human existence exclusively in terms of profit and loss. No other value enters into his head. Almost every major problem we face today can be traced to this way of thinking.

His jobs plan is basically this: lower my taxes and we’ll talk; maybe someday wages in China will rise and GE will bring more manufacturing back to the US. Until then, think like a complete globalist! (He does favor government spending on research and development, which of course translates into enormous subsidies for corporations.) What do unemployed people do in the meantime? No answer. Those considerations don’t seem to come up at Harvard Business School, where a large number of these one-dimensional automatons, Immelt included, seem to have acquired their stunted mentalities.

And, of course, he wouldn’t be a true-blue American business leader if he didn’t indulge in a bit of narcissistic whining at the end:

Immelt: I want you to root for me. You know, everybody in Germany roots for Siemens. Everybody in Japan roots for Toshiba. Everybody in China roots for China South Rail. I want you to say, “Win, G.E.”
I just can’t imagine why they don’t.

1 comment:

dpjbro said...

GE spends about as much effort avoiding taxes and lobbying for special exemptions and tax credits as it does producing jet engines and financing the global economy. All the while producing few jobs in the US.

And the CEO of this corporation is who Obama appoints head of the jobs commission. One would guess Obama isn't that serious about jobs after all.