GE chairman explains in op-ed: Bernie Sanders is a complete economic ignoramus

Headshot image of Dan Calabrese
Published by: Dan Calabrese on Thursday April 07th, 2016

Our word, not his . . . but the message is unmistakable.

Jeff Immelt has been around awhile as chairman and CEO of General Electic, and I'm sure Bernie Sanders is not the first blowhard politician he's heard railing against big business without the slightest idea of how or why major companies do the things they do. So maybe it's because Sanders is getting so much attention, or maybe it's because he's even more spectacularly wrong than your average blowhard, but Immelt felt the need to respond when Sanders accused GE of "destroying the moral fabric" of America.

And boy, did he:

Sanders says that he is upset about GE’s operations abroad — as though a company that has customers in more than 180 countries should have no presence in any of them. He never mentions that we are one of the United States’ prime exporters, annually selling in excess of $20 billion worth of American-made goods to the world. Nor does he mention that our sales around the world support our manufacturing base here at home, along with the thousands of U.S. companies in our supply chain. You want to cause big problems for our suppliers — many of whom are small and medium-size businesses — and their workers? The surest way would be to pull out of those countries and lose those customers.

We are competing globally with foreign companies whose governments care whether they win and support them in innumerable ways. U.S. companies continue to wrestle with an outdated and complex tax code that puts them at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Sanders has stated many times that GE pays no taxes. Repeating a lie over and over does not make it true. We pay billions in taxes, including federal, state and local taxes. The U.S. tax system has not been updated in 30 years and isn’t designed for today’s economy, which is why we support comprehensive tax reform — even if it raises our tax rate.

It’s easy to make hollow campaign promises and take cheap shots in speeches and during editorial board sessions, but U.S. companies have to deliver for their employees, customers and shareholders every day. GE operates in the real world. We’re in the business of building real things and generating real growth for a nation that needs it now more than ever. 

Democrats think they've got a particularly juicy talking point when it comes to U.S. companies and their overeseas operations, especially to the extent that they can portray activity abroad as some sort of sinister attempt to avoid paying taxes. Obama is pretty darn proud of himself at the moment because his new Treasury rule has apparently stopped Pfizer from merging with Irish rival Allergan, thus ensuring Pfizer will continue to be stuck paying the obscene 35 percent U.S. corporate tax rate.

As Immelt points out in his op-ed, the U.S. tax code is antiquated and no one should be surprised that companies come up with strategies to minimize their tax liabilities. Rational people don't spend money if they don't have to. Politicians are the outliers here, which I suppose is why they find this so difficult to understand.

Note as well how Immelt draws a distinction between what's required to be a politician - talk, take cheap shots at people and get votes - and the necessity of businesses to actually perform and deliver for customers. Politicians like Obama, Hillary and Sanders can rail all day long against business for allegedly not paying taxes, or not paying enough, because no one holds the politician accountable for spending way beyond his or her (or should I say our) means, and then coming back and demanding more money from everyone else to pay for their profligacy. GE can't do that. GE has to perform and has to live within its means, and has actually done so very well for a long time now.

This is one of the reasons people are intrigued by the idea of a businessman becoming president. Whether any specific businessman would make a good choice or not, one thing you can certainly say is that just about no politician could do what Jeff Immelt does. As soon as they realized they've have to deal with reality, they'd be completely lost.

Get your copy of Herman Cain’s new book, The Right Problems, here!