Nick Shaxson ■ How ‘competitiveness’ became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture


This headline is drawn from an important article at the London School of Economics website by Will Davies, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. We’ve not had contact with Davies, but it seems we have been thinking along similar lines.

For any politician to state that his or her country must be ‘competitive’ is widely taken to be as bland a statement as ‘this country needs to be productive’ or some other motherhood-and-apple-pie.  But this is, as we’ve shown, one of the great deceptions of modern global economics – see, for example, our analysis of why a competitive tax system is a bad tax system. One could make similar arguments with respect to financial regulation, to minimum wages policies, and much more.

Davies argues:

“There has rarely been a political or business leader who has stood up and publicly said, “society needs more inequality”. And yet, most of the policies and regulations which have driven inequality since the 1970s have been publicly known. . . . But rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness.”

He has written a book about it, in fact:  The Limits of Neoliberalism: Sovereignty, Authority & The Logic of Competition.

With competitiveness and competition, he continues, comes inequality.

“We celebrate London because it is a competitive world city; we worship sportsmen for having won; we turn on our televisions and watch contestants competitively cooking against each other. . . . Why would it be remotely surprising, to discover that a society in which competitiveness was a supreme moral and cultural virtue, should also be one which generates increasing levels of inequality?”

It isn’t surprising, of course but that isn’t the main point here either. The main point is this:

“At a key moment in the history of neoliberal thought, its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena. Under the latter model, there is no distinction between arenas of politics, economics and society.”

As we never tire of repeating, competition between firms in a market bears no relation whatsoever to competition between countries on tax or whatever. And yet these arenas have all been lazily conflated by politicians, pundits, economists and their acolytes and lobbyists.

It is time to start dealing properly with the bogus ideology of national ‘competitiveness.’ It turns out, if you research it properly, that there’s not really any such thing.

Read more here.

Related articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.