Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Immelt on America going “all-in”

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 20, 2011 21:38 UTC

I had breakfast this week with Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, and the main dish on the menu was tough love. In an interview before a packed hall in Times Square, the boss of the more than a century-old $177 billion global behemoth told me that Americans can still win in the global economy — but that they need to fight harder.

“We are not trying that hard,” Immelt said. “We haven’t really tried as hard as we can to compete, educate and sell our products around the world and I think we can do better.

“The world just plays harder than we play,” he said. “Whether it is on exports or whether it is on foreign direct investment, the rest of the world plays for keeps. And we just don’t have a similar philosophy.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has her own reasons for feeling grim, but she can take some comfort from the fact that Immelt pointed to Germany, whose version of capitalism Americans are accustomed to dismissing as plodding and inflexible, as one nation that is outselling the Yanks.

“Chancellor Merkel flies from Berlin to Beijing, there’s 25 German C.E.O.’s that get off the plane right behind her. And they connect the dots. They play hard, they play to win, they play for exports,” Immelt said. “We’re not all-in the same way that the Germans are all-in.”

GE’s Immelt speaks out on China, exports and competition

Chrystia Freeland
Jan 21, 2011 20:31 UTC

UPDATE — Since I wrote this column early on Thursday morning, my prediction (in the final paragraph), that we would today hear more about Immelt and his ideas on how to create U.S. jobs has been vindicated: President Obama this morning appointed Immelt to lead his outside panel of economic advisers. To hear more from Immelt, watch my exclusive interview with him here.

————

For Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, the 130 year-old American industrial behemoth, the financial crisis marked the end of the age of America’s economic dominance.

“I came to GE in 1982,” Immelt told me this week in Washington. “For the first 25 years, until the bubble crashed in 2007, the American consumer was the definitive driver of the global economy.” But Immelt said the future will be different. For the next 25 years, he said, the American consumer “is not going to be the engine of global growth. It is going to be the billion people joining the middle class in Asia, it is going to be what the resource-rich countries do with their new-found wealth of high oil prices. That’s the game.” A lot of that game will be played in China. At a moment when it is compulsory on the American right to pay homage to the exceptionalism of the United States, Immelt, a life-long Republican, is matter-of-fact about China’s inevitable rise.

GE’s Immelt on replacing Paul Volcker

Chrystia Freeland
Jan 21, 2011 17:32 UTC

Earlier this week in her exclusive interview with Jeff Immelt, Chrystia asked whether the GE head would replace Paul Volcker as chairman of President Obama’s outside panel of economic advisers.  Immelt ducked the question a bit, saying he would leave that decision to the President.  Today it became clear why he was noncommittal as the White House announced that Immelt will chair a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the successor to the President’s Economic Recovery of Advisory Board which Paul Volcker chaired.

Watch Chrystia’s exchange with Immelt and read the transcript of his remarks below:

You know, I’m going to leave that alone. I’m going to leave it to the President. What I would say is that I think American companies and American CEOs need to be as constructive as we can be to help, you know, resolve some of these mistrusts and residue that exist in the environment today. 9.5% unemployment is not a tenable situation for any of us. You know, even though, it’s not directly my responsibility, in a broader sense, it’s all of our responsibilities. And so, I think there’s nothing wrong with working constructively with this President to try to drive growth and job creation.

A consequence of globalization is polarization

Chrystia Freeland
Dec 10, 2010 15:19 UTC

Chuck Schumer, the senior Democratic senator from New York, already has one of his talking points for 2012 — he plans to lambaste the Republicans for their “tax cuts for millionaires,” a reference to the right’s refusal to end the Bush tax breaks at the upper-end of the income distribution.

That’s a big deal, because for much of the post-war era, class has been a forbidden subject in U.S. politics. Americans were sold on the idea of living in the land of opportunity — their country, after all, was the one huddled masses fled to for the chance to build a better life. That self-image was so appealing and so powerful that politicians ran against it at their peril—Morning in America played better on the campaign trail than class war.

Schumer is a centrist whose constituency includes many of America’s plutocrats —he has sometimes been called the Senator from Wall Street. He is also one of the country’s savviest politicians. So his judgment that “millionaires tax break” will make a good bludgeon for Republicans says a lot about how deep the chasm has become between America’s super-elite and everyone else, and how worried middle-class Americans are that the old promise of social mobility is no longer delivering.

  •