Matt Yglesias, responding to the automotive bailout debate, argues that it does:
What I find interesting, however, is not so much how irrational it is to attribute nationality to a business enterprise but how much nationality really does seem to matter. For example, the oil business is an global business. And the six “supermajor” firms are all global firms. But the CEO of Royal Dutch/Shell is Dutch. The CEO of Total is French. The CEO of BP is British. And the CEOs of ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil are Americans. It’s a bit hard to understand why a competitive international labor market would work out that way. And beyond CEO nationality, local norms seem to make a big difference. The CEO of Total earns way less money than the CEOs of the other supermajors and to a first approximation the reason is that he’s French, and French CEOs just don’t get paid very well. More broadly, European and Japanese executives earn less money than American executives, with British executives in the middle. I recall that one of the issues with the DaimlerChrysler merger was that the executive pay scales were totally out of whack.
Beyond CEOs, Nestle has 15 directors. Of them one is Indian, one is Swiss/American, seven are Swiss, and the rest are from other European countries. But there’s nothing especially “European”—and certainly nothing Swiss—about the company’s actual operations. They earn a lot of money in Europe, but the majority of their revenue is from outside of Europe, and there’s production all over the world. It’s also totally normal for large multinational firms to be disproportionately owned by shareholders located in their “home country” and home continent.
Corporate nationality, in other words, doesn’t matter. But it seems as if it actually does. And for somewhat mysterious reasons.
Reasonable points all. (BTW, this is a huge deal in Canada, maybe even more so than in the U.S.).
But GM and Chrysler had U.S. management and ran their companies into the ground. Toyota, Honda, and the transplants have created jobs in America. Nationality cuts several ways.
Some time ago, when I was studying the globalization of the automotive industry and the rise of off-shore transplants, I discovered something interesting. U.S. and European companies all said it was much easier to set up cutting-edge plants outside their home company. New greenfield plants could be built from scratch, filled with new equipment, laid out flexibly, and staffed with “fresh” managers and workers. Older plants back home suffered less from being in old buildings but from built-up and near-impossible-to-change organizational structures and relationships.
Seems to me the real issue isn’t nationality of ownership or management but its quality. From an economic development perspective, I’d much rather encourage companies and plants with great management to invest and develop in my country or location than to protect and shield ones owned by my far less capable compatriots.
UPDATE: The governments of Canada and Ontario apparently now own a two percent equity stake in Chrysler, according the Conor Clarke of The Atlantic who notes: ”Chrysler is going to become part of an Italian car company. And it’s doing so with Canadian dollars”