Perry Glasser

THE SADDEST BASTARD

In Business, Economics, Economy, Finance, Personal Finance, Politics, Wall Street on August 11, 2011 at 7:32 am

Back in the days when Barney Rubble and I were business journalists, I was sent to China for two weeks to report on the strides the People’s Republic was making, especially with its IT infrastructure. Hong Kong had just been reabsorbed by China, but when the Chinese did not arrest and execute every employee of the Hong Kong stock exchange, western corporations became excited about growth prospects in a country where capitalism might be allowed to flourish without central planning. They saw huge markets and a chance to sell stuff.

We met in Beijing with several Chinese ministers for a lavish dinner hosted by Ernst & Young. The food and service were impeccable. I ate things which I still have no name for, and in some cases I am sure I do not want to know, though I can tell you that shredded pickled ox belly is better than it sounds.

The ministers were looking for investors. They were wary of becoming a market or a source for resources, and given China’s history with the Imperialist West, they had reason to be.

They wanted money coming in, not going out, and they saw their challenge to be one of creating a business climate that would attract western money that would not be exploitive. In short, they had no desire to repeat the economic history of South America, a continent that shipped raw goods to the north where the goods were processed into products that were then shipped south. No, China would manufacture its own products, thank you very much, and the ministers were at pains to explain to the journalists in the room that western money making its way to China would be used to enhance the lives of the Chinese. They invited access, not exploitation.

Now you know what happened to the American furniture business.

In Beijing, I spent a very ordinary hour interviewing a highly placed executive from Ford Motor Company. This guy was as corporate as I ever met, deadpan in expression, irritated to have been told by higher-ups he would have to take some time to talk to me, frightened he might say the wrong thing. I explained I was not Mike Wallace and was not in search of scandal, and asked what Ford’s plans were in China.

At the interview’s end, I closed my note pad and asked the guy where he was from.

“I work for Ford.”

I thought he misunderstood. I was making small talk. I was curious to know where in the US he’d come from, as I thought I detected a flat Midwestern accent. I said as much.

He resented the question. “I come from Ford. I am a citizen of Ford,” he said.

No smile; no irony. He was dead serious. A man without a country whose only allegiance was to the quarterly bottom line.

He walked me to the elevator.

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