CEO empathy for Occupy Wall Street

at 12:20 PM ET, 10/18/2011

A handful of financiers have broken ranks to support Occupy Wall Street, and some big business leaders are urging empathy as well. Take Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, at a Thomson Reuters event on Monday. “Unemployment is 9.1 percent. Underemployment is much higher than that, particularly among young people that don't have a college degree,” said Immelt, according to Reuters. “It is natural to assume that people are angry, and I think we have to be empathetic and understand that people are not feeling great.”

Immelt also agreed that sky-high CEO salaries were fanning the flames of the protests. “The discrepancy is certainly one of the problems today in terms of why people feel the system is unfair,” he told reporters, while adding that attacking CEOs wouldn’t solve the problem.

What does Immelt think could allay the protesters’ frustration? Economic growth and lower unemployment. How does he want to achieve it? As chairman of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, he presided over a series of economic recommendations that essentially affirmed the White House’s own jobs-creation agenda — including infrastructure and energy investment, worker retraining, deregulation and visas for high-skilled immigrants. As Ezra notes, “Its ideas don’t seem to differ much from Obama’s ideas.”

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