As I've long maintained, the business press is often the best place to get the real story about what's going on in American politics. That's because it's focused almost exclusively on telling its investor-readers how to make money, rather than on the political media's manufactured red-versus-blue story lines -- story lines that distract us from our transpartisan oligarchy. A particularly good example of the value of the business press in telling the real political story comes from the latest issue of Businessweek.
After a week of the political press corps in Washington telling us how "pro-business" President Obama is for appointing General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to a top White House position, Businessweek lets us know what those in the know think this is really all about: Profits, corporate control and insider information. Check out this excerpt:
To some investors, [Immelt] taking the role is practically a fiduciary duty. Stephen Hoedt, a Cleveland-based analyst for Key Private Bank, whose parent company owns 17 million GE shares, says Immelt may be "able to affect policy at the highest level." Brian James, co-head of research at fund manager Loomis Sayles, says he hopes Immelt, a Republican, gets "some insights into what's going to impact GE coming out from Washington," adding "this appointment simply can't be bad for GE."...
Given the uncertainty in GE's home market, not to mention opportunities to participate in earmarked projects and policy debates, Sterne Agee analyst Nick Heymann argues, Washington is a good place for Immelt to be. "This is where the opportunities to influence are," he says.
So there it is. Unlike our political elite who try to portray everything as a grand story of good and evil, of statesmen and Great Men, the people with Big Money on the line are open about what this appointment really is: Namely, the institutionalization of corporate influence -- the kind that likely means bigger profits for job outsourcing firms like General Electric. As they say, Immelt's new job will likely provide a current CEO with power to shape the policy that governs his company, as well as exclusive advanced (read: insider) knowledge of those policies.
This is exactly why I've said on my radio show that for Obama the Immelt appointment isn't about creating jobs. How could it be, considering GE has been one of the biggest outsourcers in America? No, for Obama this is about cold hard cash -- and campaign contributions in specific. In putting a sitting CEO* inside the economic apparatus of the government, he is broadcasting to corporate America that they now have a direct conduit to policymaking -- with the unstated by strongly implied suggestion that the conduit is open to those with the resources to pay up in 2012.
In that sense, I guess Obama has achieved a modicum of the transparency he promised: He has fully formalized the pay-to-play corruption that was once hidden from view, but is now right out in the open.
*It's one thing for a White House to hire someone who leaves his/her job as an executive to work full-time in the government. That's bad enough (think: Dick Cheney). But it's quite another thing to take a sitting CEO and make him/her simultaneously a top White House economic policymaker. The dual roles -- CEO and government policymaker -- define the phrase "conflict of interest."