He was the capitalist archetype. He was a monster

Jack Welch was the longtime CEO of General Electric which became, under his tsardom, the most “valuable company in the world.”

In yesterday’s Times, David Gelles, the journalist who wrote the Corner Office column for the business section, yanked Welch’s dessicated corpse out of his grave to do an autopsy on his dominance and influence over American business.

The article, “How Jack Welch’s Reign at G.E. Gave Us Elon Musk’s Twitter Feed,” is adapted from Gelles’s new book, The Man Who Broke Capitalism.

After having worked for capitalists, I really did not want to learn more about Jack Welch. Back in those days, I hadn’t yet finalized the position of capitalism in my personal intellectual hierarchy. Still, I had queasy feelings about Jack Welch and his ilk, the tyrants of a system I came to see as amoral, necessarily counterbalanced by government, a democratic society’s effort at moral consensus.

Jack Welch was great at increasing profits and accumulating power for himself and his constituents, i.e,  shareholders. The way Welch went about doing so made him a monster.

I think I understand why Gelles called him “the man who broke capitalism,” although Welch himself didn’t. What he did do was inscribe a perversely vile way of doing big business. And he gave birth to a slew of business disciples who have fucked up the companies they have run the Welch Way.

Just after I read Gelles’ article, I spotted what follows in Harper’s June Index, which confirms in punchy numbers what Gelles describes fully in the article. Which is how those CEOs who followed Welch have screwed up:

Percentage of U.S. workers who quit their jobs in 2021 who cited disrespect as a reason for quitting: 57

Who cited overwork: 39

Who are now earning more than they were in 2021: 56

Percentage by which hiring a CEO with a business degree decreases wages for the company’s other employees: 15

Average percentage change in sales by companies that hire CEOs with business degrees: -1

But the wretched system called capitalism has not only survived Jack Welch. It has been transmuted by the Koch Bros, et al., into a political movement disingenuously called “libertarianism,” which drives not only at sucking as much money from consumers as possible while fighting pesky regulations.

Capitalism now seeks to destroy what it sees as the biggest obstacle to its absolutism: our democratic government.


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