WHICH is it? The home of free speech, the rule of law and the rich world’s most dynamic economy? Or a land of social decay, septic politics and the rich world’s worst roads and schools? America divides foreign observers. It divides foreign firms, too. Some bosses fall head over heels for its insatiable consumers and dazzling technology. Other executives are put off by its insufferable lawyers and hypocritical protectionism. Donald Trump promises to give foreign firms a rude awakening when he reaches the White House: this month he beat up Toyota for making cars in Mexico and selling them north of the border. But in truth many foreign firms fell out of love with America years ago.
The conventional view is that foreign companies are irresistibly attracted to the place. If one affair ends in tears, there is always a new paramour in the wings. In the 1970s British buccaneers, led by Sir James Goldsmith, picked up neglected firms. In the 1980s Japanese firms lost their financial virginity by paying too much for Hollywood studios and Californian skyscrapers. A decade later continental European firms rushed across the pond, culminating in Daimler’s doomed…Continue reading