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May 25, 2005

Friedman on American Business.

Tom Friedman takes the American business establishment to task. Just why aren’t they worrying more about the competetiveness of America? He actually answers his own question although seems not to make enough of it:

And in part, this is because in today's flatter world, many key U.S. companies now make most of their profits abroad and can increasingly recruit the best talent in the world today without ever hiring another American.

Companies are interested in what is good for companies, not what is good for the society around them. Yes, of course, they depend, in part, on that society. Yet if that society deteriorates, the companies do not necessarily fail with them. They move, to climes more congenial. As, indeed, many are, moving production to places outside the US.

As an aside, can you actualy imagine the screams of outrage that would follow if business leaders actually did what Friedman suggested, got involved in real politics? "We must do this for the benefit of American business" would quickly be read as "Grinding the faces of the workers into the dust".

The real point is that business moving offshore, business finding the US an uncongenial place, is a signal, one that needs to be  learnt from. Friedman lists the things that appear to be wrong:

Is there any company in America that should be more involved in lobbying for some form of national health coverage than General Motors, which is being strangled by its health care costs? Is there any group of companies that should have been picketing the White House more than our high-tech firms, after the Bush team cut the National Science Foundation budget by $100 million in 2005 and in 2006 has proposed shrinking the Department of Energy science programs and basic and applied research in the Department of Defense - key sources of innovation?

Is there any constituency that should be clamoring for a sane energy policy more than U.S. industry? Is there any group that should be mobilizing voters to lobby Congress to pass the Caribbean Free Trade Agreement and complete the Doha round more than U.S. multinationals? Should anyone be more concerned about the fiscally reckless deficits we are leaving our children than Wall Street?

All of these, without exception, are problems of government. Too much or bad, but it is government at fault, not business. Fix these governmental problems and business wouldbe quite happy to continue to work with the most productive and most highly educated workforce in the world.  The errors are in Washington, not boardrooms.

May 25, 2005 in Business | Permalink


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In fact, if you are a not eligible to vote, "lobbying" and political donations, can only be seen one way...

As bribes.

Corporations, Unions, Charities and Foreign Nationals should not be allowed to donate.

Posted by: Rob Read | May 25, 2005 10:41:07 AM

Funny that this will be read and agreed with by those who spent much of the end of last year decrying the fact that the Bush administration is in hock to big business.

Posted by: EU Serf | May 25, 2005 11:03:49 AM

I'm with Rob: in Britain we should forbid political donations by anyone but individuals. Neither cash nor kind should be allowed from firms, Unions, charities, Trusts, Co-ops, public bodies or the like.

Posted by: dearieme | May 25, 2005 11:21:11 AM

EU Serf has a point; I don't like the way that the Bush administration is in hock to big business. Particularly to business that can use Government regulations for its own ends, like the reduction in arsenic monitoring in water tables etc. However, it isn't really the business organisations that have Bush and his crew by the short & curlies, but the few dozen people at the top of each organisation.
If GM goes down the drain because of health and pension costs, who will suffer? Not the Board of Directors - their Bush tax cuts immunise them against any need to retrench unless they incur successive divorces. It'll be the workers & pensioners. Likewise Halliburton is doing fine from Bush - though their workers in Iraq are getting shot up, the Board is having a whale of a time.

Posted by: dave heasman | May 25, 2005 1:25:40 PM

Capitalist practices have suffered from a lack of enough intelligent, critical scrutiny: the dim-witted, ill-informed socialist ranting that screeched on against capitalism for generations was quite the opposite of what was required. It seems to me to be entirely fair to ask how the puffed-up corporate bureaucrats who pillage the shareholders of big corporations might be made more answerable to those shareholders.

Posted by: dearieme | May 25, 2005 3:18:10 PM