General Motors pivots toward China

This video, which has been making the rounds of the Internet for nearly two years, is deeply flawed, as well as possibly out of date.  But the producer, whoever he is, makes a good point.  The managements of General Motors and other big corporations headquartered in the United States are not especially American in their orientation.  They go wherever profit takes them.

I remember reading about some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, fantasizing about the possibility of creating their own nation on an uninhabited island, free of annoyance by the pesky U.S. government and American public.

This is not the case with the management of Chinese corporations.  They are closely aligned with the Chinese government and the goal of making China a rich and powerful nation.  This makes for an unbalanced relationship.

There are many economic reasons, including cheap labor, for U.S. companies to manufacture in China.  One of the reasons is that China is now the world’s largest market for automobiles, and no car manufacturer can afford to ignore the Chinese market.  And the Chinese government, like the governments of many other countries, does not allow foreign companies to sell products in their country unless they have local manufacturing content, and, more importantly, they share their manufacturing know-how.

When I reported on Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp. for the Rochester, N.Y., newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s, corporate executives explained that this was the reason they set up manufacturing plants in Mexico, Japan and other countries.

The government of the United States, which is the OPEC of consumption, was in a better position than any other to impose such requirements.  But this was not done.

The U.S. government operated under the theory that unrestricted free trade was best for everybody, and if other governments were so foolish as to hurt themselves by restricting trade, that was a problem for them, not for us.

The problem with such arguments is that when manufacturing goes away, the skills and knowledge needed to make things – the so-called human capital – goes away with them.

Instead of the U.S. government imposing domestic content requirements on foreign manufacturers, some of our state governments offer them economic incentives, tax abatements and an anti-union legislation.

To be clear, I don’t think government policy is the only reason, or even the main reason, why auto companies operate where they do, or whether they succeed or fail.  But it is a fact that the governments of most other industrial countries are pro-active in promoting domestic industry.  The U.S. government doesn’t take an interest in the success of its manufacturers until they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Hat tip to Don Montana for the video.

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