Rules Change: Resetting the Playing Field for Corporations, People and Democracy
Action ideas for capitalism and the common good
May 3-5, 2013 / Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst
READINGS: What is meant by "competitiveness?"
By Bill Densmore Jr.
In some of the convening documents for Rules Change, we have written:
"The suggested process will permit appropriate elimination or modification of suggestions that would significantly hurt United States' world competitiveness."
Several participants in Rules Change called attention to this language. One commented:
- "Competitiveness" is arguably part of the problem, so including this
language that carves out a special process for protectionism would raise a
big red flag for invitees.
A second participant called the notion of U.S. competitiveness a fatal contradition which buys into a corporate agenda and would undermine every single thing in the five categories draft. This participant said:
- There isn't one thing on this list that might not hurt US "world competitiveness". Competitiveness is irrelevant. It buys into a zero-sum, dog-eat-dog, race to the bottom, world scarcity concept that isn't beneficial and isn't true. There is sufficiency for everyone. This mindset leads to excess for some and starvation for others. It's like saying we are going to participate in a road rally which has the purpose of enjoying the scenery, but anything done to prevent a person from getting to the finish line first won't be allowed. We want people to be nice to each other, but anything that might prevent them from beating each other up won't be allowed. In short, ridiculous.
In discussion, the second participant said he understood the value of healthy competition in spurring human achievement; that it was not the idea of competition that he was concerned with, but the nature of business and economic competition in the current world.
But what if we redefine "competitiveness" based on new measurements?
What if one task of the Rules Change Summit were to tackle this area of tension between business and world-sustainability interests, to actually work to redefine what we use by competition, the reset the rules of the game so that competition produces measurable gains in possible values? In short, is it possible to reinvent the very concept of global competition in ways that will ensure we compete to win in creating a sustainable future?
For example, China's booming economy is deeply challenged by resulting air and water pollution -- certainly not a sustainable condition. It might be observed that the United State's attention shift to environmental regulation in the 1970s and early set us on a course to be more "competitive" than China by that measure. Not good enough -- we are still a dramatic carbon emitter -- but better than we were. So one might argue that for a time in 1970s and early 1980s we focused on a valuable form of competition. China will have to catch up, this will increase it's manufacturing costs, making the U.S. more "competitive" again.
Thus, the word "competitive" is loaded. Many of the actions needed to set us on a course of sustainability might actually help U.S. long-term competitiveness, and further might help reset the roles of the came to foster more positive competition with other countries. The only way the actions would hurt U.S. competitiveness is if we retain failed rubrics of measurement.