Corporate Chauvinism

Much has been made of the trenchant language in Jeff Immelt’s speech at West Point about how “toughmindedness, a good trait — was replaced by meanness and greed — both terrible traits.”  He followed this statement with a powerful acknowledgement that few corporate leaders would have made that “the bottom 25 percent of the American population is poorer than it was 25 years ago.”  He deserves our applause for this candor.

Yet the bulk of the speech is dedicated to making a commitment to rebuilding manufacturing in America, a personal commitment by Immelt himself.  I have no doubt that GE can pull this off, but the speech should be a warning to other corporate leaders who may be tempted to tread in the “build American, buy American path.”  Leaving Chinese complaints of preferential treatment aside, the commitment to rebuilding American middle class jobs while competing in the global export market will be much easier to talk about than execute.  Those speechwriters warming up their quills to provide CEOs with a seasonal hot toddy of  patriotic good feeling need to think carefully how they pen words that could come back to bite their masters.  In the area of U.S. job creation, better to let actions speak for themselves.

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