On Competitiveness

by Susan McWilliams at the Front Porch Republic.

President Obama has convened his “competitiveness council,” following up on the “competitiveness” theme in January’s State of the Union address.

“Competitiveness” is the buzzword of the moment. You know it’s a buzzword because people are saying “competitiveness” instead of saying other words that mean exactly the same thing and are much easier to say. If you run a news search on Google to compare recent usage rates of “competitiveness” versus “being competitive,” you’ll see what I mean. You can’t walk a block in Washington without tripping over those cherished 15 letters. Congress recently formed a Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology, for instance.

I’d go so far as to say that “competitiveness” is the new “proactive” – the word, to paraphrase The Simpsons, that dumb people are using to sound important. Or, more precisely, it’s the word that ostensibly smart people are using to try to cover up really dumb thinking.

President Obama invokes “competitiveness” to justify why he consults high-tech CEOs for advice about job creation, even though these people have proven only that they’re good at creating the kinds of gadgets that replace human labor, and their companies have thrived in part because they don’t have to employ anyone. (Facebook has only about 2,000 employees; Twitter has 350.) These companies are a great model for how to make a few people very rich, but hardly a great model for how to generate work for the tens of millions of unemployed Americans.

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1 reply »

  1. “Improve competitiveness” is a mantra frequently heard in discussions of how countries can increase economic growth. What that slogan actually means is that global corporations want workers in developed countries to agree to wage reductions to levels similar to those in the People’s Republic of China. The unspoken threat is that workers will be driven to accept such reductions inevitably.

    Wages in China are actually rising due to the country’s success in extracting manufacturing jobs from the rest of the world. The correct policy that should be pursued by developed countries and China is to have the PRC adjust its labor markets so that Chinese workers’ wages continue to converge with those of workers in developing countries.

    Increased standards of living for Chinese workers will mean less of a reduction in standards of living in developed countries. In some industries, Chinese goods are already not competitive with similar goods produced in developed countries due to transportation costs.

    Executive management currently colludes with a corrupt PRC system to extract the value of increased productivity throughout the world to increase the wealth of the top 1% of society…the super-rich. Workers throughout the world need to organize to reject the “competitiveness” propaganda and restructure the distribution of wealth more fairly.

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