It’s pathetic if the mighty U.S. is really forced to beg corporations to produce here out of Warren-Buffetesque philanthropic urges. But it’s especially pathetic for American liberalism, which has always been most appealing when it stood up against the condescension of “alms givers”–but which now celebrates wealthy philanthropists with nauseating ease (a trend I blame, in very small part, on my old employer Slate, with its annual “Slate 60″ charity porn feature). “Giving back” is the credo of Hollywood celebrities, not New Deal liberals. Democrats are supposed to be the party of government–government that establishes a foundation for the essential dignity of working people–not the party that sucks up to the Google guys and the Gates Foundation.
At least Elizabeth Warren only wanted rich businessmen to pay higher taxes. It’s a sign of liberalism’s humiliating inability to do enough with those taxes that left-wingers now seek to substitute The Giving Pledge.
On the other hand, it fits into the Don’t Blame Barack — He’s Impotent! storyline.
UPDATE: Reader Joe O’Rourke writes:
The speech also indicated, to me, that Obama does not understand that the vast majority of medium-and-large business CEOs have only a small ownership stake in their company. The example of Intel, for example, is a poor one: Intel’s CEO may personally feel grateful to the U.S., but the vast majority of Intel owners want a safe and growing dividend and stable long-term growth.
In other words: their CEO would not be long for the position if he started re-allocating their ownership stake in ways that are more about benefitting the U.S. than Intel.
While Obama’s words are a form of demagoguery, I can’t help but feel it also shows a deep misunderstanding about how business and CEOs in most situations operate – as caretakers of others’ assets.
MORE STILL: Jim Bennett emails:
Currently, any course of action on the part of management that arguably produces lower profits than some other imaginable course of action opens that management to shareholder suits, even if the company s still profitable. Showing that a company could have made higher profits by offshoring production is relatively easy to argue. (The lawyers who write such theories of alternate courses of action are, in effect, the highest-paid alternate-history authors anywhere. Harry Turtledove pales in comparison.)
There is a substantial movement to repatriate production to the USA due to concerns over supply-chain disruption (demonstrated by the Japanese tsunami) and demonstrated problems with long-term quality control with Chinese subcontractors. Instead of campaign posturing, we might consider safe-harbor legislation shielding manufacturers from shareholder liability for declining to offshore production.
But we won’t get that from an administration that has trial lawyers as a core constituency.
Hmm. They are kind of at cross-purposes here. Though the business-judgment rule isn’t dead yet, either.