REICH: The corporate role in economic policy

Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama cut short his visit to Wisconsin today. Didn't want to get stuck there 'cause of the heavy snows that're on their way to Washington. But while he was on the ground, he spoke more about investing in infrastructure and innovation as a way to win the future, the main theme of his speech last night. The president's also been reaching out to business leaders to fill some high profile White House vacancies.

Commentator Robert Reich says some caution is in order.


Robert Reich: It's politically important for the president -- any president -- to court big corporations. They have the money, they have increasing political power, their decisions affect millions of Americans. But it's also important that the president not be seduced into believing -- or seduce the public into thinking -- the interests of big business are identical to the interests of most Americans.

We've come along way from the 1950s when GM's CEO, "Engine" Charlie Wilson, tapped to be Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense, voiced the conventional view that what was good for GM is good for America. Today, GM is making more cars in China than in the U.S.

GE's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, was just tapped to head the president's new council on jobs and competitiveness. GE is doing bang-up business in China, India, and Brazil. But for years it's also been closing factories all over America.

I'm not criticizing GM or GE or any big company. They're doing exactly what they were set up to do: Maximize the value of their shares. And in a global economy, they'll do that however and wherever they can. Even if it means shifting jobs abroad, or replacing employees with software and computers, or pushing workers for more concessions on wages and benefits, or fighting their unions.

This is one reason corporate profits are soaring and the Dow is flirting with 12,000, as if we never had a Great Recession. But American workers continue to struggle. There's no trickle down. It's all trickle out to investments and investors around the world.

So by all means, Mr. President, reach out to big business. Tell CEOs how important it is that they create jobs here in America, pay their American workers better wages and benefits and get behind efforts to improve the education and skills of all Americans. But don't expect them to do any of this unless it helps their bottom lines.

And be careful of their economic advice, too. Corporations are in business to earn money, not jobs. They won't sacrifice profits to patriotism.

Ryssdal: Robert Reich was secretary of labor for President Clinton. His most recent book is called "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." David Frum's up in the rotation next week. Send us your comments.

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