Posts tagged ‘Jeffrey Immelt’

Dispatches from The Corporate State

This is the kind of story I always thought typical of corporate states like France. It is sad to see this happening so frequently in the US

Recently, President Obama selected General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair his Economic Advisory Board. GE is awash in windmills waiting to be subsidized so they can provide unreliable, expensive power.

Consequently, and soon after his appointment, Immelt announced that GE will buy 50,000 Volts in the next two years, or half the total produced. Assuming the corporation qualifies for the same tax credit, we (you and me) just shelled out $375,000,000 to a company to buy cars that no one else wants so that GM will not tank and produce even more cars that no one wants. And this guy is the chair of Obama's Economic Advisory Board?

This is the classic kind of cozy relationship between large industrial corporations and government that has been a feature of European states for years.

Fascinating Insight into the Corporate State

This story is from the WSJ, and gets extra bonus points for including the poster-boy of the corporate state, Jeffrey Immelt

Treasury and OMB singled out an 845-megawatt wind farm that the Energy Department had guaranteed in Oregon called Shepherds Flat, a $1.9 billion installation of 338 General Electric turbines. Combining the stimulus and other federal and state subsidies, the total taxpayer cost is about $1.2 billion, while sponsors GE and Caithness Energy LLC had invested equity of merely about 11%. The memo also notes the wind farm could sell power at "above-market rates" because of Oregon's renewable portfolio standard mandate, which requires utilities to buy a certain annual amount of wind, solar, etc.

But then GE said it was considering "going to the private market for financing out of frustration with the review process." Anything but that. The memo dryly observes that "the alternative of private financing would not make the project financially non-viable."

Oh, and while Shepherds Flat might result in about 18 million fewer tons of carbon through 2033, "reductions would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies (more than 6 times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules)."

So here we have the government already paying for 65% of a project that doesn't even meet its normal cost-benefit test, and then the White House has to referee when one of the largest corporations in the world (GE) importunes the Administration to move faster by threatening to find a private financial substitute like any other business. Remind us again why taxpayers should pay for this kind of corporate welfare?

First, the moment GE said that this could be financed privately, the Feds should have said "then what the f*ck are you talking to us for? Get out of here."  By the way, privately probably does not mean privately -- it probably means going to private banks or investors who in turn access many of the same taxpayer funds.

Second, its amazing that the threat to finance this privately rather than sponging off taxpayer funds is treated as a threat by the Obama Administration.  They desperately want to "take credit" for the project and can only do so by spending our money  (this is the same impulse that propels politicians who have never given a dime to charity to want to spend taxpayer money in order to be called "caring.")

Green Jobs & Public Investment = Corporate Welfare

The recent naming of GE's Jeffrey Immelt to head a presidential commission on, err, something or other seems to have been an occasion for bipartisan gnashing of teeth about what I call the growth of the American corporate state.  I was encouraged by the bipartisan negative reaction from the left, right, and of course the libertarians, the latter of whom have always understood the difference between being pro-capitalism and pro-business.

But all it takes is a nomenclature change of this corporate welfare to "green jobs" or "investment in the future" or "bridge to the future" or similar bullsh*t and suddenly many of the exact same people, at least on the left, are swooning again.  Why is it not obvious that, for example, green energy subsidies are just the same old corporate welfare?

Here is one aggravating example

Despite millions in government grants and subsidies, the Manitowoc company President Barack Obama called a glimpse of the future lost $4.2 million last year and cannot promise shareholders it will be profitable in the foreseeable future....

“We may continue to incur further net losses and there can be no assurance that we will be able to increase our revenue, expand our customer base or be profitable,” the report indicates.

Investors have responded to the company’s volatility, and Orion stock has plummeted in the past four years.  It closed 2007 at $18.82 a share.  By the end of 2010 it was $3.34.

Regardless, President Obama is putting his, and the U.S. taxpayers’, money on companies like Orion.

“It’s important to remember that this plant, this company has also been supported over the years not just by the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration, but by tax credits and awards we created to give a leg up to renewable energy companies,” Obama said at the Orion plant on Wednesday.

The State of Wisconsin has also given its share trying to help Orion to succeed.  Since 2005, the state has given the company $350,000 in community development zone tax credits, $506,000 in economic development funds, and $420,000 from the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund.  Plus the company got another $260,000 in stimulus funds for a State Energy project.

In addition to direct aid, public policy has also helped the struggling company.  Wisconsin law requires that 10 percent of all electricity sold in the state come from renewable sources by 2015.  Orion knows that without government intervention like that, there would be little prospect for the green economy.

“The reduction, elimination or expiration of government mandates and subsidies or economic or tax rebates, credits and/or incentives for alternative renewable energy systems would likely substantially reduce the demand for, and economic feasibility of, any solar photovoltaic and/or wind electricity generating products, applications or services and could materially reduce any prospects for our successfully introducing any new products, applications or services using such technologies,” the SEC report states.

By the way, in 2010, while the government was pouring taxpayer money into Orion, its founder and CEO was pulling his out, selling (by my count of SEC filings) 130,000 shares, despite equity prices that were at a five year low.    It is dangerous to draw conclusions form insider sales (we don't know what personal financial issues may be driving their actions) but it is interesting that the president and founder is taking the exact opposite point of view on the company's prospects than is President Obama.

Further Thoughts on Corporate Speech

The reaction by the left to the Supreme Court decision yesterday overturning speech limitations on corporations seems tremendously hypocritical.  No one seems to complain on the left when certain groups/corporations (call them "assembly of individuals") get special access to the government and policy making.  Jeffrey Immelt and GE, Goldman Sachs, the SEIU, and the UAW all get special direct access to shape legislation in ways that may give special privileges to their organization -- access I and my company will never have.

Deneen Borelli wrote, in response to Keith Olberman's fevered denunciations of free speech for corporations

"It also seems as if the pot is calling the kettle black. MSNBC is currently owned by General Electric. GE Capital was bailed out by the taxpayers. GE CEO Jeff Immelt is a close advisor to President Obama, and GE would profit from Obama policies such as cap-and-trade. Olbermann has served as a cheerleader for all of this. Are Immelt and Olbermann simply afraid to allow others to possibly gain the attention and influence GE has had all along?"

Here is an example -- has the health care bill considered my company's situation, where we have 400 seasonal workers, almost all of whom are over 70 and on Medicare already?  How, in these circumstances, do we offer health care plans?  Are we relieved of the penalty for not offering a plan if they are on Medicare or a retirement health plan already?  The legislation does not address these issues (see Hayek) and I am sure numerous others, but I will never be able to cut a special deal for my workers or my industry as GE or the UAW have.

Further, corporate paid speech is alive and well in this administration, you and I just can't see it.  Lobbyists are all having record, banner, unbelievable revenues, in large part because the government is putting such a large chunk of the economy in play for forced redistribution and everyone who can afford it is paying to influence the process.

But nothing in any of the good government reforms have (rightly) ever put any kind of restrictions on this kind of speech directly to legislators.  The only speech they limit is speech to the public at large.  In effect, McCain-Feingold said that it is just fine to spend gobs of money speaking directly to us government folks, but try to go over our heads and talk directly to the unwashed masses, well, we have to make that illegal.  Far from tilting the balance of power to a few rich elite firms, the recent Supreme Court decision gives new power to the rest of us who don't have privileged access.

Update: Speaking of hypocrisy, the NY Times Corporation is outraged other corporations have been given the same rights it has had all along.  In a sense, the Times is lamenting their loss of a monopoly.

Update #2: Ilya Somin:  Corporate speech is actually an equalizer for far worse inequalities of political influence and access that already exist.

The Corporate State, Illustrated

Couldn't have illustrated the new corporate state that Obama is building better than this -- at state where large corporations, unions, and government officials conspire to use government power to enrich their contituencies to the detriment of smaller businesses, consumers, and taxpayers.  WSJ via Tad DeHaven:

The government has taken on a giant role in the U.S. economy over the past year, penetrating further into the private sector than anytime since the 1930s. Some companies are treating the government's growing reach "” and ample purse "” as a giant opportunity, and are tailoring their strategies accordingly. For GE, once a symbol of boom-time capitalism, the changed landscape has left it trawling for government dollars on four continents.

"˜The government has moved in next door, and it ain't leaving,' Mr. [GE CEO Jeffrey] Immelt said at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal in June. "You could fight it if you want, but society wants change. And government is not going away.'

A close look at GE's campaign to harvest stimulus money shows Mr. Immelt to be its driving force"¦ Inside GE, he pushed his managers hard to devise plans for capturing government money.

By January, Mr. Immelt had become a leading corporate voice in favor of the $787 billion stimulus bill, supporting it in op-ed pieces and speeches. Reporters who called the Obama administration for information on renewable-energy provisions in the legislation were directed to GE.

When the stimulus package was rolled out, Mr. Immelt instructed executives leading the company's major business units "to put together swat teams to get stimulus money, and [identify] who to fire if they don't get the money," says a person who heard him issue the instructions.

In February, a few days after President Obama signed the stimulus plan, GE lawyers, lobbyists and executives crowded into a conference room at GE's Washington office to figure out how to parlay billions of dollars in spending provisions into GE contracts. Staffers from coal, renewable-energy, health-care and other business units broke into small groups to figure out "how to help companies" "” its customers, in particular "” "get those funds," according to one person who attended.

From Henry Payne, in an article on the auto industry:

The Left likes having Big Industry straw men to bash whenever their socialist plans run aground, but the fact is, Big Industry is embracing the U.S.'s leftward lurch. Better to secure your place at the Rentseekers Roundtable, to lock out new competition and guarantee a never-ending stream of government welfare.