"GE has been in business for 124 years, and we've never been a big hit with socialists," writes General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt in his rebuttal to Bernie Sanders in the Washington Post.

That may be true, and GE is a great American story of innovation, but the company's lobbying agenda and Immelt's rhetoric are often less than perfectly capitalist.

Immelt, speaking at the 2010 Export Import Bank annual conference, expressed envy for China's industrial policy. "What you see in China," Immelt added, "is an incredible unanimity of purpose from top to bottom." He said "Germany is the model, because "The companies roam as a pack. They stick together. And the government supports the companies to be exporters." He derided the economics of "let whatever happens happen."

In 2009, Immelt's letter to shareholders celebrated that, "The global economy, and capitalism, will be 'reset' in several important ways," Immelt wrote. "The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner."

In fact, GE last year announced it was moving 400 jobs (that didn't exist yet, BTW) to France, because France was willing to offer taxpayer backing, while in the U.S., export subsidies were endangered by Ex-Im's expiration.

Here's some of GE's lobbying positions over the past few years:

  • In favor of federal regulations that effectively outlaw the traditional incandescent, driving customers to higher-margin high-tech bulbs
  • For green-energy subsidies
  • For Export-Import Bank reauthorization
  • For cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse-gas emissions

...just to name a few.

Immelt is correct and brave to defend GE's pursuit of profit. He would be on firmer ground if his firm pursued that profit more fully in the free market, and less through lobbying for regulations and subsidies.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.