Diary

What Is The Sound Of Corporate Shoulders Shrugging?

Think that class warfare and mindless anti-business hatred don’t have real-life consequences?

Think again:

Much political hay has been made in Congress about “unpatriotic” corporations that move operations abroad. Weatherford International is the latest, taking its headquarters from Houston to Switzerland. The oil services company said that it wants to be closer to its markets. But what it really meant was that it no longer saw the future in the U.S.

In a political atmosphere of blaming corporations, it’s no wonder. Halliburton fled to Dubai in 2007. Tyco International, Foster Wheeler and Transocean International all went to Switzerland. As a pattern emerges, America’s global standing diminishes, in part because it’s based on the willingness of companies to invest. It’s an especially bad sign when domestic companies flee.

“The U.S. is an important market,” Weatherford CEO Bernard J. Duroc-Danner told the Houston Chronicle Thursday. But, “it’s just a market. It’s not the primary market.”

How does that sound for a loss of global leadership? If that’s not clear enough, try this: “In the hierarchical pecking order, (Houston’s) not going to be Rome anymore.”

This is what happens when oil companies are unremittingly portrayed as villains, when various businesses have their patriotism questioned as a consequence of rational and entirely defensible decisions that they make–decisions that are based on the current climate in the United States and when politicians threaten to remove all restraints on the power of unions through antidemocratic measures like card check. It’s imperative, of course, to reverse this trend of business flight–especially given the current economic downturn and the need to rebound from it–and yet, the same old class warfare and Pavlovian demonization of business continues unabated.

Business is not blameless, to be sure. Large enterprises staffed by human beings make mistakes. But there is a difference between honest criticism and demagoguery. The former makes the target of criticism better. The latter only serves to drive away any prospect whatsoever of reasoned discourse. And in the present case, it is serving to drive away moneymaking, job-creating, service-providing enterprises, which have decided that they can do better outside the United States than they can in it.

If you think this won’t have deleterious consequences for the American economy, then you will probably also believe that Rod Blagojevich is both intellectually brilliant and morally incorruptible.