Saturday, January 22, 2011

Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession? Or Just Too Pro-Business?

The main story's at LAT, "Obama Touts U.S. Innovation in State of the Union Preview." And at NYT, "Obama Urges U.S. Competitiveness Ahead of Speech."

What's interesting about this is how progressives are quick out of the gate attacking the agenda. You've got Robert Reich, who was President Clinton's Secretary of Labor, with "American Competitiveness, and the President’s New Relationship with American Business." And by some really bizarre tricks of witchcraft, Emptywheel is able to turn Reich's attack on the agenda as a diatribe against the military industrial complex. Seriously. "“Competitiveness” Is Peace":
If we want to be competitive ... we have to stop wasting so much money on our war machine and instead invest it in our own country.
This, for want of a better phrase, is rank unadulterated bullshit.

That said, you gotta love Paul Krugman's piece, "Competitiveness." Krugman's mostly just agreeing with Robert Reich. That is, the attacks on Obama's agenda are mostly attacks on American business, which is the enemy of the progressive left. The administration is way too cozy with Wall Street and the big corporations like GE, and it drives lefties crazy. What's interesting is that Krugman links to his one-time classic article at Foreign Affairs, "Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession." Published in 1994, the piece was a big deal at the time, since it broke with the orthodoxy on the epic challenges of head-to-head competition with Japan. And the actual analysis is straightforward, that nations are not firms, and the problems of competitiveness arise from a range of factors beyond mere worker productivity, currency values, and high value-added manufacturing sectors. But I'll leave that to the economists (and Krugman was a respected economist on one time). What's so funny about Krugman is what a sexist troglodyte he is (or was back in the day). I'll never forget how he spoke of Laura D'Andrea Tyson as President Clinton's "Chairman" of the Council of Economic Advisors:
Most writers who worry about the issue at all have therefore tried to define competitiveness as the combination of favorable trade performance and something else. In particular, the most popular definition of competitiveness nowadays runs along the lines of the one given in Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Laura D'Andrea Tyson's Who's Bashing Whom?: competitiveness is "our ability to produce goods and services that meet the test of international competition while our citizens enjoy a standard of living that is both rising and sustainable." This sounds reasonable. If you think about it, however, and test your thoughts against the facts, you will find out that there is much less to this definition than meets the eye.
Laura Tyson is, of course, a woman. I guess that didn't occur to Krugman, or the editors at Foreign Affairs, for that matter. More recently, Christina Romer served as "Chair" to President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors. But by 2008 most media commentators spoke appropriately of Romer as the "chairwoman of Pres. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers."

My how times change.

It's good for a laugh, in any case. And big time radical progressives like Paul Krugman and Firedoglake's Marcy Wheeler come off looking like dolts one more time.


JBW said...

So let me get this straight: referring to a woman as a "chairman" is an egregious enough offense to therefore be labeled a "sexist troglodyte"? Wow. You must be one of the most sensitive politically correct guys I've ever known Don, and that's saying something for someone who lives in the Bay Area...