Is Competition A Foreign Word?

Posted by By at 3 December, at 22 : 16 PM Print

by Eric J. Epstein

Competitiveness studies essentially analyze tax structure, labor pools and relative business climates. Rarely do they  discuss the nature of competition or who we are competing  against.

As a nation, we unquestionably implement domestic and  foreign policies that survive Administrations and incent and  subsidize the American brand. We protect steel, defend oil  and extract minerals from under the ocean floor – not in the  name of competition – but under the manifest guise of  protecting the American way-of-life.

Many of the “American” corporations that seek to capitalize  on state and federal competition polices are based in Bermuda,  manufacture in Mexico and import from China, yet remain “uncompetitive.”

When was the last time a talking head or political mouth  muttered a word about whether or not America’s competitive  edge is undermined or strengthened by these policies?

On that rare occasion when an international referee  sanctions foreign nations for knockoffs, corporate espionage, or illegal dumping, America still finds itself on the short end  of the competitive stick.

Then again, how aggressive have we been in dealing with  insider trading, mortgage packaging or corporate fraud? We can not jump-start competition when consumers,  entrepreneurs and markets do not believe that there are fair  rules of engagement or objective referees with enforcement powers.

The bigger question to ponder is whether the American  lifestyle is conducive to competition. Is the contemporary  American-way-of life overweight, sluggish, and self-indulgent?  And if so, should we not fashion policies to target the American  psyche rather than write blank checks to create artificial  competition?

Twenty years ago in the wake of Tiananmen Square,   China’s leaders were scared and embarrassed into action.  The Communist Party decided that making money was good  and competing against the US was better. We celebrated the  demise of the Soviet Union, and accepted the mantle as the  world’s only superpower.

The current reality is that we can not compete against China.  They are agile, repressive and not slowed down by the  machinations of democracy, lobbying or sound bites. There are  no workplace rules, lax environmental regulations, and  consumer safety recalls are nonexistent.  Forget human rights, clean air and toxic crayons. Red China is a competitive juggernaut  without a democratic middle-class.

At some point the Chinese will be pushed by the appetite of  their workers to buy whatever we are still manufacturing. But  that won’t cure the apathy and inertia that has supplanted the  American can-do attitude.

We need to have a frightening fireside chat about what we  can learn from China while preserving and maintaining a  modern democracy.

We are a consumer society, not a competitive culture. We  do not allow failure, and will not tolerate the emotional bruises  that result from competition. Rules are not meant to be broken.  Not all kids deserve four strikes, a “progress” trophy or a gift  certificate to self-esteem camp. These kids grow up to become  adults who demand a European sedan, mental health days for  a hangover and a time-share in the Caribbean.

If we are serious about competition, than we need to rethink  who and what we are as a culture. All the tax abatements,  giveaways and subsidies that politicians rush to adorn businesses  with in the name of competition  will not cure our cultural  addiction to soft-landings for everybody.

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