May 10, 2011, 10:15 am
There’s a lot of chatter about the fact that GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt is backing off his obsession with green technology and climate change. In a speech at MIT recently he said:
If I had one thing to do over again I would not have talked so much about green. Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science, it just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious and it let opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn’t care about jobs. I’m a businessman. That’s all I care about, is jobs.
I’d be curious what Ken Green and Steve Hayward make of all this, but I have a few, mostly cynical, thoughts.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Immelt is suddenly saying jobs are his biggest concern now that he’s the chairman of the White House’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. If Immelt proved one thing during his long experiment with “ecomagination” it was that he sees no problem with gaming politics as part of his business model.
Job creation—as opposed to green job creation—is the new North Star of the Obama administration, and Immelt is simply adjusting his sails accordingly.
Consider Immelt’s non-sequitur: “I’m a businessman. That’s all I care about, is jobs.” Since when is creating jobs all that businessmen care about? Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of businessmen. Most love giving people productive jobs to do. But if all businessmen cared about was creating jobs, most of them would go out of business. Good businessmen care about creating and satisfying customers, and in the case of publicly held corporations like GE they care about increasing shareholder value. Or, at least, that is what they are supposed to care about.
It seems to me that it is at least plausible that Immelt is simply switching rent-seeking strategies. If, all of a sudden, the prospects for cap-and-trade and other Obama green priorities dramatically improved, I’d bet Immelt would still be touting his love of renewable energy subsidies and the like.