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.