How Multinational Corporations Undermine American Prosperity

By Michele Nash-Hoff

Long-time American manufacturing advocate, Michael Collins, added to his extensive body of work with a 4th book, Dismantling the American Dream: How Multinational Corporations Undermine American Prosperity  Michael had a 35-year career in manufacturing before retiring and uses his experience to write a book he describes as “a concise story that tells what America's multinationals did to the U.S. economy and how they did it.”

Michael told me that one of his purposes in writing the book was to take advantage of a commitment letter signed by 181 CEOs on August 19, 2019 “to lead their companies not just for the benefit of their investors, but for the benefit of all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.” He wanted to “provide the managers of the 181 corporations a good summary of the problems and obstacles they will need to address and overcome if they are going to make good on their commitments.”

In his book, Michael reveals that multinational corporations (MNCs) began to follow Milton Friedman’s doctrine — an entity’s greatest responsibility lies in the satisfaction of the shareholders.” He wrote, “In the 1980s, the Business Roundtable translated this into shareholder value or ‘the point of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners, period.’” This resulted in “favoring shareholders over all stake holders and short-term profits over society and country.”

His book shows “how the economy has been restructured to fit the needs of the MNCs and their investors, resulting in huge gains in wealth for the few [and] rising inequality while tens of millions of Americans find themselves unable to attain the standard of living of previous generations.”

He writes that outsourcing “began as early as the 1970s, but accelerated in the 1990s after the U.S. negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).” He writes, Outsourcing by American corporations has caused permanent damage to American workers, manufactur9ng, supplier companies and the living standards of many families. It may lead to short-term profits for the corporations, but eventually, the corporations will lose the technology and the market to foreign corporations.” He opines that “Over the last 40 years, the MNCs commitment to short-term profits, shareholder value, and outsourcing has resulted in the deindustrialization of America.”

All of this outsourcing caused a surge in inequality, and he quotes the Job Quality Index developed by the Coalition for Prosperous America, which shows that “In 1972, 27 percent of all private industry jobs were low-quality jobs. Today, low-quality jobs are 59 percent of all jobs.”

His brief coverage of “the Myth of Free Trade” corroborates many of the points I have made in blog articles I have written in the past 13 years. I particularly liked his comment, “the winnings of free trade have gone mostly to the investors —the MNCs and their shareholders. Free trade has been very hard on workers, manufacturers, suppliers, and industries…”

In his chapter “Innovation and the Loss of Technology, he lists several key American inventions patented between 1945 – 1982, such as microwave ovens, hard disk drives, laser, MRIs, GPS, mobile phones, personal computers, and comments that “most of the inventions listed above are no longer manufactured in America.” He points out that “China has already swallowed the low-tech products we used to make. What they want now is our advanced technology products and production processes that were developed in the United States. The technologies they are after are all listed in their Made in China 2025 plan.”

The data in his chapter “The Slow Erosion of American Manufacturing Industries is mind-blowing and frightening with regard to how many manufacturing sectors have declined, some to the point of no return.  His comment that “all former Presidents since Bill Clinton rely on their economic advisors and abandon manufacturing” rings true.

His analysis of Financialization, “defined as the ‘growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy and the shrinking regulation of its rules and returns” provided a new perspective for me.  It was startling to learn that “today finance has 40 percent of the nations’ profits with 5 percent of the jobs.”  He writes that some of ways “Financialization has hurt the American economy” are:

  • Rising inequality
  • Stagnant wages
  • Falling productivity
  • The decline of GDP growth
  • The decline of innovation
  • Decline of capital investment

In the next chapter, he discusses the fact that reducing corporates taxes to keep multinationals producing here in the U.S. hasn’t worked because there are too many loopholes that corporations can use to avoid paying taxes, not to mention reincorporating in tax haven countries or shifting taxes to subsidiaries in lower tax countries.  As a result, reductions in corporate taxes have caused our national debt to escalate because multinational corporations have not paid their fair share of taxes.

The next two chapters focus on how MNCs have developed a more powerful influence on the economy and Congress; first, by buying influence in government with lobbying money, and second by forming monopolies and oligopolies.  His itemization of the lobbying money spent by the top 33 companies in lobbying Congress is staggering.  This explains why trade associations and even manufacturing-related unions like the AFL/CIO Industrial sector have so little influence on legislation.

I was familiar with monopolies, but had to look up information on oligopolies. Essentially, they are industries dominated by a few large companies. Michael writes, “In the last 20 years, oligopolies have been created by mergers and acquisitions (M&A) of MNCs.” He then describes modern day oligopolies:  airlines, banks, hospitals, meat packers, beer, smart phones, pharmaceutical companies, and railroads. He opines, “The agglomeration of market power also leads to political power where the oligopolies and monopolies create and control the rules of the economic game which leads to political inequality.”

In the subsequent chapters, Michael addresses the skilled worker shortages, mainly caused by a lack of workforce training by MNCs, especially apprenticeships, and the lack of high paying manufacturing jobs compared to service jobs as a result of outsourcing manufacturing to other countries.

His chapter on “The Threat of China” is so thorough that no summary could do justice to his comprehensive coverage of this topic.  He writes, “The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed the vulnerability of U.S. supply chains.” He advises, “The first step is to recognize China as a competitor not a trading partner and do everything possible to stop this competitor form gain strategic and tactical advantages. He notes, “It is not an exaggeration to say we are in the beginning of a cold war with China and must defend ourselves as we did with the Soviet Union.”

 His next two chapters are devoted to solutions to address the decline in productivity and GDP growth, currency manipulation and the overvalued dollar.

His chapter on “Why we Must Save America’s Manufacturing Sector” echoes most of the points I made in my first book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved?  Why we should and How we Can, published in 2009.  Michael and I are definitely on the same page, and both of us have published hundreds of articles that expressed our opinions on the importance of manufacturing to our national economy. I concur with his statement, “More than any other business sector, the U.S. multinationals were responsible for the erosion of the industrial commons. They outsourced all kinds of technologies and products with reckless abandon and with no regard for the skills and knowledge that would make America competitive in the future.”  I have made the same point many times that Michael expressed when he wrote, “The American MNCs have become ‘stateless’ entities with little or no loyalties to the home country.”

The final chapter provides his recommended solutions for the key problems he has identified, which you need to read for yourself. He makes an appeal to the 181 CEOs to keep their pledge so they can contribute to saving and rebuilding American manufacturing in order to protect our national security that is at risk.

This book is a must-read for everyone who is concerned about the future of the manufacturing industry, especially with regard our national security.  Every Senator and Congressional Representative needs to read this book.  I suggest you buy one book for yourself and one to give to your Representative.