CORP GURU SEES TROUBLE IN GLOBALIZATION

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CORP GURU SEES TROUBLE IN GLOBALIZATION

 user 2007-05-07 at 10:56:00 am Views: 58
  • #18213

    Corporate guru sees trouble in globalization
    WASHINGTON
    — Whenever U.S. corporations establish factories overseas, they can
    count on taking flak from labor unions, lawmakers and left-of-center
    economists.Now the practice of borderless commerce is drawing fire from
    within Corporate America’s own ranks. Ralph Gomory, president of the
    Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a former top executive at IBM, is
    attacking what he calls a growing divergence between the interests of
    footloose U.S. corporations and the interests of the United
    States.”Companies are very focused on profitability. There used to be a
    pretty good tie between that and doing something for the country. …
    (Now) the things they’re trying to do are not good for the country,” he
    said in a recent interview.Instead of benefiting both of the countries
    involved — as mainstream trade theory argues — locating new factories
    on foreign shores adds to the economy of the other country at the
    expense of the United States, Gomory says.The current situation, he
    adds, is a far cry from the 1950s, when General Motors President
    Charlie Wilson maintained: “What was good for our country (is) good for
    General Motors, and vice versa.”
    “Globalization has really changed that,” Gomory says.
    Indeed,
    the trade liberalization policies that the U.S. has pursued for a
    generation encouraged corporations to seek the lowest-cost locations
    for their operations. As labor-intensive textile mills departed, trade
    fans argued that the U.S. would thrive with more advanced industries.
    Now, even more sophisticated operations often end up in other lands.
    Case in point: the 1,200-worker semiconductor plant Intel is erecting
    in Vietnam.Living standards here will inevitably decline unless
    something is done to encourage U.S. corporations to invest at home
    instead of abroad, he says. Gomory wants to use the corporate income
    tax to reward companies that invest in “high-value-added” jobs here and
    penalize those that move such facilities overseas. “Where companies go
    is affected by self-interest. We need to make it in the self-interest
    of companies to invest in America,” he said.Other countries explicitly
    seek to attract good-paying jobs in advanced industries. The U.S.
    should do so, too, he says, while also eliminating its enormous trade
    deficit.Gomory, 77, brings blue-chip corporate credentials to the trade
    debate. He spent 30 years at IBM, retiring in 1989 as senior vice
    president for technology. A past board member of companies including
    The Washington Post Co. and Bank of New York, he is currently a
    director of printer maker Lexmark International.In
    Lexmark board deliberations, he’s voted reluctantly to move plants to
    countries such as the Philippines. Gomory says it’s his legal
    obligation as a director to maximize the interests of shareholders —
    not the country as a whole. “It’s a system problem — not a people
    problem. That’s why we have to change the system,” he says.In a 2001
    book he co-wrote with economist William Baumol, a former president of
    the American Economic Association, Gomory challenged the conventional
    view that when each country specializes in what it does best, trade is
    a win-win affair for all.
    Outside the ranks of specialists,
    Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests drew little attention;
    in 2004, Alan Greenspan, then Federal Reserve chairman, publicly
    rejected Gomory’s central argument.But with trade skeptics more
    numerous in the Democratic Congress, Gomory’s views are more popular
    today. He met recently with a group of 30 U.S. senators to discuss his
    proposal to overhaul the corporate income tax.Still, much of the
    Democrats’ energy so far has been spent trying to write tougher labor
    and environmental standards into new trade agreements, pacts that
    Gomory says are “largely irrelevant” to the broader economic erosion he
    seeks to arrest. And even some who share his fears about
    globalization’s impact on the U.S. economy aren’t convinced that
    Gomory’s remedy will work.Princeton University economist Alan Blinder,
    a former Federal Reserve Board member, says he has discussed Gomory’s
    idea with him. But Blinder says Gomory’s proposal would open the door
    to all sorts of politically inspired employment subsidies as it moved
    through Congress. “I’m not convinced that particular proposal or any
    similar proposal would be a net benefit,” Blinder says.The status quo
    on trade also has Wall Street, major corporations and much of the
    political establishment behind it. So Gomory is realistic about his
    chances of realigning corporate interests with that of the country.”I’m
    not that optimistic,” he says. “There are major interests at stake.
    Reasonable argument is only one element and not always the most
    important.”