"Left" pundits Kabuki analysis gets manufacturing policy all wrong

The "progressive" or left punditocracy has, unfortunately, bent to the peer pressure of the larger media and too often substituted narrative for reporting and analysis. President Obama just appointed GE's CEO Jeff Immelt as the chair of his outside council of economic advisers with a mandate to focus on jobs and manufacturing. Progressive commentators who have previously demonstrated little interest in manufacturing condemned this appointment in the most peculiar way. The usually level headed Mike Konczal complained "GE has been at the forefront" of a “financial services”-centric model of business". FDL's Marcy Wheeler contributed a typically overwrought "Obama’s Kabuki Jobs Council, Brought to You By “Nut on China” Jeff Immelt." DailyKos featured a number of horrified articles and Senator Bernie Sanders speech about Immelt's 2002 call for China investment was widely cited. What's so strange about this reaction is that nobody mentioned the inside the White House manufacturing adviser, former SteelWorkers Union official Ron Bloom, or discussed Immelt's announced change of heart in the wake of the financial crisis and the significant investment in manufacturing GE has made since that change. There was no actual analysis, just more reflexive "OH NOES" and a lot of the borderline racist theory that Obama is an empty suit, ready to blindly follow whatever adviser gets in the headlines. Here's a report by GE on Immelt's 2009 speech - a speech that has not been given much notice in the progressive media.

Of critical importance, he said, is the need to focus on technology and manufacturing. “Many bought into the idea that America could go from a technology-based, export-oriented powerhouse to a services-led, consumption-based economy — and somehow still expect to prosper,” Jeff said. “That idea was flat wrong.”

“Recently my colleague Peter Loescher, the CEO of Siemens, extolled the importance of Germany as an exporting country. In my career, I have never heard an American CEO say that the United States should be leading in exports. Well, I am saying it today: This country ought to be, and we can be, not just the world’s leading market but a leading exporter as well. GE plans to lead this effort. We have restructured during the downturn, adjusting to the market realities. At the same time, we are increasing our investments. We plan to launch more new products during this downturn than at any time in our history. We will sell these products in every corner of the world. We are creating a better company coming out of this reset. Similarly, America needs a dramatic industrial renewal. We have to move forward on five fronts.”

And it's not just talk, GE has invested real money in US manufacturing since 2008 when they realized that being a finance company was not a good idea. Of course, that does not mean that GE has suddenly become a model citizen or that Immelt has decided move all GE factories back home - but you'd have to be incredibly naive to imagine that was possible. What has happened instead is that, without much serious discussion in the either netroots or mainstream media Immelt has joined other heavy hitters in manufacturing, like Andy Grove, to oppose the gospel of the service economy - a gospel that people like Robert Reich still peddle. And what about Ron Bloom - who even has his own Wikipedia page ? Bloom came to the administration from the Steel Workers Union.
Bloom was named to the White House’s auto bailout team two years ago, and took over as its head after financier Steven Rattner stepped down. Bloom has hardly been a shrinking violet in the role. Bloom was credited for squeezing Chrysler’s creditors -– including big banks such as J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley – to take sharply reduced payouts for their outstanding loans to the auto maker as it barreled into bankruptcy. “Ron has been the quiet force that relentlessly and aggressively knocked people’s heads together,” an unnamed administration official told the Journal for an April 2009 story. WSJ
Check out this speech by Bloom. But if you relied on "progressive" media for your information, you would not learn much about Bloom, about the administration's policies in manufacturing, or about the challenges of America's manufacturing sector. You certainly would not see continued and sustained pressure on the Administration to expand its manufacturing initiatives and to support and expand its efforts to provide access to funding for manufacturing. What you'd see is cliched invocations of "Kabuki", which is, by the way, a pretty refined Japanese art form and not a synonym for "pretend".


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