If it had been revealed that Jeffrey Immelt once hired an undocumented nanny, or defaulted on his mortgage, he would be forced to resign as head of President Barack Obama's "Council on Jobs and Competitiveness." But the fact that General Electric, where Immelt is CEO, didn't pay taxes on its $14.5 billion profit last year--and indeed is asking for a $3.2 billion tax rebate--has not produced a word of criticism from the president, who in January praised Immelt as a business leader who "understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy."
What it takes, evidently, is shifting profit and jobs abroad: As of last year only 134,000 of GE's total workforce of 304,000 was based in the U.S. and, according to The New York Times, for the past three years 82% of the company's profit was sheltered abroad. Thanks to changes in the tax law engineered when another avowedly pro-business Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president, U.S. multinational financial companies can avoid taxes on their international scams. And financial scams are what GE excelled in for decades, when GE Capital, its financial unit, which specialized in credit card, consumer loan and housing mortgage debt, accounted for most of GE's profits.
That's right, GE, along with General Motors with its toxic GMAC financial unit, came to look more like an investment bank than a traditional industrial manufacturing giant that once propelled this economy and ultimately it ran into the same sort of difficulties as the Wall Street hustlers. As The New York Times' David Kocieniewski, who broke the GE profit story, put it: "Because its lending division, GE Capital, has provided more than half of the company's profit in some recent years, many Wall Street analysts view G.E. not as a manufacturer but as an unregulated lender that also makes dishwashers and M.R.I. machines."
Maximizing corporate profits at the taxpayer's expense is what top CEOs are good at, and after all it was Immelt who presided over GE when it got so heavily into the subprime mortgage business that it needed a government bailout to avoid bankruptcy. This was before Obama made him a trusted adviser.