Hillary Clinton

GE CEO Fighting Back on Bernie Sanders' Anti-Corporate Rhetoric

While Hillary Clinton starts to call into question whether Sanders understands banking policy.



More than two months after the first nominating contests of 2016, Hillary Clinton, who was once considered a virtual shoe-in for the Democratic nomination, is still facing an opponent, one whose won five of the last six contents and amassed more than 1,000 delegates.

Clinton spent 2015 lurching leftward, adopting what she believed to be the most attractive Sanders talking points for the Democratic base. It was not enough to put Sanders away. Now for a different tactic. In recent days, Clinton has called into question whether Sanders understands how Dodd-Frank works.

Sanders, meanwhile, suggested Clinton wasn't qualified to be president because of donations from Wall Street, which he called "an entity whose greed, recklessness and illegal behavior helped destroy our economy." Wall Street, of course, is a street in Manhattan where the New York Stock Exchange and a metonym for the entire financial and investment industry, not a singular "entity" the way, say, Washington as a metonym for the federal government could be.

And yesterday, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt penned an op-ed for the Washington Post slamming Sanders for his attacks on corporate America, and specifically the claim that corporations were "destroying the moral fabric" of the country.

Immelt, of course, is an imperfect messenger for this kind of defense. GE has in recent years, under Immelt's leadership, been a major recipient of corporate welfare and practitioner of crony capitalism. The toxic relationship between big government and big rent-seeking corporations has, thanks to low-information voters and misleading rhetoric, directed resentment not toward crony capitalism but free markets.

Sanders' critique of corporations rarely focuses on the role government plays in undermining free markets and suppressing competition—after all, he wants an even bigger role for government—and instead on those market forces that drive prosperity.

"GE has been in business for 124 years, and we've never been a big hit with socialists," Immelt writes in his Washington Post op-ed. "We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches.

Immelt also responded to Sanders' rhetoric about U.S. companies operating overseas. "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," Immelt writes, pointing out that such a presence supports exports of American goods, supports manufacturing in the U.S. (which is alive and well), as well as global supply chains that also rely on thousands of other U.S. companies.

Immelt also called the U.S. tax code outdated and pushed back against Sanders' claim that GE pays no taxes, pointing out it pays billions to all levels of government and has called for "comprehensive tax reform" even if that meant higher taxes. "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" Immelt writes, referring to a New York Daily News interview with Sanders where the senator showed little understanding of what kind of policies would be required to execute his rhetoric. "GE operates in the real world."

Immelt's op-ed follows a Vox piece criticizing Sanders' anti-trade stance (which despite different flavored rhetoric is very similar to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's). Perhaps it signals the start of a spell breaking. Anti-trade rhetoric has been a big hit this election cycle for the major party candidates, exploiting Americans' economic illiteracy to drum up fear about the U.S. losing its prosperity to foreign countries as if economic growth were a zero-sum game. It's the product of decades of economically illiterate rhetoric from politicians. The worse the major party candidates keep looking overall, the better chance there may be of a Libertarian or other third-party candidate offering free trade the defense it deserves.