Why a top CEO rejects “pro-business” Obama
George Buckley, the boss at manufacturing conglomerate 3M, apparently didn‚Äôt get the memo about Obama 3.0 (vs. Campaign Obama and New New Deal Obama) being a ‚Äúpro-business‚ÄĚ president.
This new incarnation, the White House tell us, is evidenced by a) the ¬†hiring of lobbyist/rainmaker Bill Daley as Obama’s chief of staff, ¬†b) bringing in GE boss Jeff Immelt to run his new competitiveness council, and c) temporarily abandoning plans to raise income taxes on small business and entrepreneurs.
But Buckley is having none of it, telling the Financial Times that ‚Äúwe know what [Obama‚Äôs} instincts are — they are Robin Hood-esque.¬†¬†He is anti-business. ‚Ä¶¬†¬†Politicians forget that business has choice. We’re not indentured servants and we will do business where it’s good and friendly. If it’s hostile, incrementally, things will slip away. We’ve got a real choice between manufacturing in Canada and Mexico — which tend to be pro-business — or America.‚ÄĚ
Buckley has good reason to wonder aloud about Obama‚Äôs pre-election year conversion from nemesis to friend of Corporate America. He surely sees Team Obama failing to make obvious moves to boost U.S. global economic competitiveness. The president still supports the new healthcare and financial reform laws. The president still wants to raise taxes. And the president gave the stiff-arm to his own debt panel. So there you have it, the axis of economic evil ‚Äď taxes, regulation and government spending.
Now America‚Äôs best days may lie ahead, as Warren Buffett suggests in his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. But the United States is becoming a less attractive place for multinationals, like 3M, to do business.
In her recent business analysis of ‚ÄúUSA Inc.,‚ÄĚ technology analyst Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins compared America to 20 competitors on a variety of metrics for economic fundamentals, business climate, human capital and infrastructure. Of the 29 attributes, the United States, relative to other countries, improved on none since 2000, stayed the same on nine and deteriorated on 20 including worker quality, taxes, and transportation.
Of course, America isn‚Äôt exactly Chad, which is last on the World Bank‚Äôs rankings for ease of doing business. Or even China, which can be found way down at number 79. Uncle Sam is an encouraging fifth, though the institution does identify trouble spots such as a creaky and inefficient tax system. Reducing tax complexity and lowering rates, especially for multinationals, would help address that.
The U.S. must also do a better job at attracting and keeping high-skill immigrants. The current visa cap is far too low for tech industry needs. Indeed, a 2010 Federal Reserve study shows such immigrants boosts native worker productivity and income. (Of course, there might be less need if the union-run education system was doing a better job.) America must also continue to reform healthcare to both reduce some $60 trillion in future unfunded liabilities and provide regulatory certainty for business big and small.
All that, not better messaging, is what’s needed to make America the world’s premier location to start and run a business.