BACK IN 2014, in an interview with the magazine Chief Executive, General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt explained that starting in the 1980s, “most of us” — i.e. GE executives — “saw it as our task to outsource manufacturing, to move it to low-cost countries. This continued through the 1990s and into the very early 2000s.”
Immelt’s statement of the obvious is relevant because Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said essentially the same thing about GE this week, which triggered an angry response from Immelt.
In a meeting on Monday with the New York Daily News editorial board, Sanders was asked to name a corporation that he believed was “destroying the fabric of our nation.” Sanders said that GE was a “good example” because it had shut down “many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. … That is saying that I don’t care that the workers, here have worked for decades. … The only thing that matters is that I can make a little bit more money. That the dollar is all that is almighty.”
Immelt (or, more likely, his ghostwriter) replied in a Washington Post op-ed that “Sanders says that he is upset about GE’s operations abroad — as though a company that has customers in more than 180 countries should have no presence in any of them.”
This is, of course, intentionally misleading language: Sanders’s criticism was not that GE has established a “presence” in other countries, but that it has moved many of its factories there in order to save money by paying workers less.
As Immelt himself said in 2014, outsourcing became his task because “U.S. labor was expensive and materials were cheap.”
In other words, there’s no actual argument between Sanders and Immelt about the reality of GE’s outsourcing. It’s simply that Immelt believes that a U.S.-based multinational corporation should do everything possible to maximize its profits, even at the cost of its American workers’ jobs, while Sanders does not.