Last night President Barack Obama held a behind-closed-door dinner with 17 chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations including Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, Verizon Communications' Ivan Seidenberg, and General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt. According to Bloomberg, the President made the case to his select guests that his administration is "fundamentally business-friendly." This comes almost two weeks after the President told BusinessWeek: "[T]he irony is, is that on the left we are perceived as being in the pockets of Big Business. And then on the business side, we are perceived as being anti-business."
What the President fails to understand is that there is no irony here. It is entirely consistent for big government policies that favor select and politically connected big corporations to hurt the economy as a whole. In fact, almost all well-intentioned government interventions in the market place do exactly that. In a July 2009 interview with BusinessWeek, President Obama spoke of an earlier behind-closed-door meeting he had with top corporate executives:
The last lunch that I had, I guess we had the CEOs of Xerox (XRX), AT&T (T), Honeywell (HON), and Coke (KO). We talked about the fact that, in the 1980s, when everybody was afraid Japan was going to eat our lunch, a lot of companies did a 180 in terms of quality improvement, efficiency, increasing productivity. There was a change in corporate culture that significantly boosted corporate productivity for a long time and helped create the boom of the '90s. What they pointed out was, there were a couple of sectors that were resistant to that: health care, education, energy, and government.
[What we're saying] matches up almost perfectly with what those CEOs were saying: Can we introduce the same sort of productivity in the health-care industry, which we know is going to be a growing sector because of the aging population? Can we use the need to transition our energy economy in such a way that it ends up being a huge engine for economic growth? Can we revamp our education system so that it's producing the kind of workers we need? ... we need to get beyond this notion that somehow government is always just the problem.
But as others have pointed out, the reason the health care, education, and energy sectors all failed to improve quality, efficiency, and productivity in the 80s is because those sectors were, and continue to be, the sectors most dominated by government intervention: our education system is a near total government monopoly; the federal government controls the majority of health care spending in this country, and our environmental laws make new energy development in this country virtually impossible. But President Obama seems completely oblivious to these facts. He is supremely confident that his government "pro-business" interventions will be ahistorically successful. And so he confidently tells BusinessWeek: "You would be hard-pressed to identify a piece of legislation that we have proposed out there that, net, is not good for businesses."
Never mind that President Obama's cap and trade proposal would be worth billions to select power companies but cost the U.S. economy as a whole trillions of dollars. Never mind that his health care plan would turn health insurance companies into public-utility like monopolies at tremendous cost to small businesses. Never mind that the President's big labor-friendly tax hikes would cripple American competitiveness. President Obama's "pro-business" TARP related actions helped lower the United States rank in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, from "free" to "mostly free." The President must stop having behind-closed-door meetings with his favorite CEOs and start pursuing an economic agenda that helps everyone.
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