In General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, President Obama may not have picked the worst possible corporate executive to head his new panel on job creation. But Immelt is pretty close.
Immelt is a classic example of a rent-seeking CEO who may know what’s good for his own company but not what produces economic growth and private sector job creation. He supported Obama on the economic stimulus, Obamacare, and cap and trade – policies either unlikely to stir growth and jobs or likely to impede faster growth and hiring.
Just before the stimulus was passed in February 2009, Immelt said in a statement: “Bold, visionary action – like that we need from Congress today – never comes easy, but we urge Congress to expeditiously conclude the stimulus package.” GE, he said, favors “swift passage of legislation…that can be promptly signed by the President.”
He got his wish. And two months later, Immelt told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Obama had “pumped nearly $1 billion into the economy… and my sense is that, over time, these things will work.” He was wrong. Unemployment has remained well above 9 percent for more than a year and growth has increased slowly and erratically.
On Obama’s health care bill, Immelt said at GE’s annual stockholders’ meeting last April that he hadn’t personally lobbied for it. Instead, he said GE’s position was covered through the Business Roundtable, which did indeed lobby Congress to pass the legislation, and later regretted it.
Roundtable chairman Ivan Seidenberg declared last June that “Washington” – code for the Obama administration – had created “a hostile environment” for job creation. Immelt is a big player in Washington, having been a member of the president’s earlier Economic Recovery Advisory Board. The new panel he’ll head is the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Immelt’s support for cap-and-trade was pure rent-seeking. The measure was certain to drive up energy costs and weaken the economy, but GE was expected to benefit enormously. The cap-and-trade bill passed the House, but died in the Senate in 2009. However, the Environmental Protection Agency may, on its own, act to curb greenhouse gases, as cap-and-trade would have.
In an interview on CNBC in 2009, Immelt said he found the science on global warming to be “compelling. So it’s question of when and not if there’s going to be something done on carbon. Give us some certainty and let’s go.”
He said some people argue for a simple tax on carbon. “But I just think cap and trade is the more practical approach.” Cap-and-trade would let Washington impose a national ceiling on carbon emissions, and companies could buy or sell emission rights. GE, by gaining rights in a windfall as a result of the legislation, would have many rights to sell.
Immelt is Obama’s pet CEO. The president traveled today to Schenectady, New York, where he toured the site of the birthplace of GE before delivering a speech.