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Oh, brother, here it comes. Competitiveness

going to work, work, work!

It looks like Obama got a head start on his “competitiveness” meme.  Note: whenever you see a buzzword like this, the first thing you need to ask is “what *exactly* do you mean?” and the second thing is “how are you going to screw up my life with it?”.  Julian Assange got it wrong when he thought that releasing secret documents would lead to greater honesty and transparency.  To reach that goal, what you really need to do is figure out what the executives are hiding beneath all that bizspeak.

From the NYTimes, we get this:

President Obama, declaring that the United States can “outcompete any other nation on earth,” called on Saturday for a new era of American innovation and competition, using his weekly address to deliver a pro-growth, pro-trade message that is likely to be at the heart of the State of the Union speech he gives to Congress on Tuesday.

Picking up on themes from a Friday appearance in Schenectady, N.Y., and last week’s state visit with President Hu Jintao of China, Mr. Obama said that one of the most important things he could do in his presidency was to “open up more markets to American goods around the world.” He struck an optimistic tone, even as he described the challenges the nation still faces in a difficult economy with unemployment above 9 percent.

“We’re living in a new and challenging time, in which technology has made competition easier and fiercer than ever before,” Mr. Obama said. “Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible.”

“But that shouldn’t discourage us,” he continued. “Because I know we can win that competition. I know we can outcompete any other nation on earth. We just have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses and harness the dynamism of America’s economy.”

Is this a SOTU address or the annual CEO Town Hall meeting speech given at every large company in the nation?  I can just picture it now.  The professional consultant industry brands a several new bizspeak words and phrases and the top executives roll them out and the next level down executives parrot them so they look knowledgeable and with it and so they can flatter the higher ups and then those bizspeak words trickle down to the midlevel managers who use them to kiss up until they reach the rank and file who just roll their eyes and fume in frustration.  Doesn’t anyone know how to actually *manage* anymore without resorting to fricking slogans???

Here’s some more slogans from the above to watch out for:

“unlock the productivity”  I don’t know what Obama has been up to but everyone I know is on overdrive right now.  There aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done.  How much more productive are we supposed to get?  And why hasn’t all this excess productivity been unlocked already?  What are the executives doing with it?  Keeping it in a jar?

“Unleash the ingenuity”  I just spend a grueling week in California learning about the ingenuity of the American worker.  We are incredibly ingenious.  But as soon as the ingenuity is automated, it’s off to Chindia!  WHAT, Mr. President, are you going to do about that?  Please note that getting Jeffrey Immelt onboard as an advisor on labor is not part of the answer.  Wah-wah-wahhhhh.

“harness the dynamism of  America’s economy”  Hmmm, if dynamism of the American economy was the desired goal, then the first stimulus package should have been about twice the size that it actually was.  Horse, barn door and all that.  Too late for dynamism.

So, what we have here is a man who does not know what American workers are already doing and does not understand how many American workers used to be ingenious and innovative and dynamic and are now out of work because people like Immelt come from companies that see workers in terms of quotas on some kind of vitality curve.  How about we get rid of those damn quotas that encourage office politics and demotivate people who work their asses off all year but who can’t get into the blessed realm because there are an insufficient number of spaces for them- according to the fricking curve?

Somewhere, there is a an article about how companies whose managers indulge in bizspeak are the most poorly run.  Sooo, I don’t have a lot of hope for this White House.  But more than that, I doubt there are many of us who want to sit through another meaningless Town Hall meeting where the guy in charge says things he doesn’t mean and means things he doesn’t say.  “Blah-blah-blah, workers! Blah-blah-blah-Compete!”


Krugman is sounding a similar theme:

It’s OK to talk about competitiveness when you’re specifically asking whether a country’s exports and import-competing industries have low enough costs to sell stuff in competition with rivals in other countries; measures of relative costs and prices are, in fact, commonly — and unobjectionably — referred to as competitiveness indicators.

But the idea that broader economic performance is about being better than other countries at something or other — that a companycountry is like a corporation –is just wrong. I wrote about this at length a long time ago, and everything I said then still holds true.*

The hopeful interpretation of Obama’s embrace of the idea that he’s the CEO of America Inc. is that it might help fend off right-wing attacks on government action as a whole, helping him sell the need for public investment of various kinds. On the other hand, as Robert Reich says, this could all too easily turn into a validation of the claim that what’s good for corporations is good for America, which is even less true now than it used to be.

All in all, it’s kind of sad. And the less said about Jeffrey Immelt’s vacuous op-ed, the better.

Yep, pretty much.  The more I hear Obama, the more validated I am in my initial impression of him as the biggest executive office, good old boy schmoozer and ass kisser that ever was.  I know everything there is to know about the guy and that’s why I didn’t want for him for president.

And here’s another thing to think about:  So much manufacturing went to Asia and now it’s hard to find  appliances made in the USA.  Theoretically, this was done because the costs of production and labor were so much lower in Asia that the goods would be cheaper.  But the last time I compared one of the few American made appliances with an Asian competitor, the price wasn’t a whole lot lower.  I expected to see a dramatic difference in price to reflect the lower cost of labor and no medical bennies or pensions or, you know, stuff that working people actually care about.  But the price difference wasn’t there.

Where is the money going?  Oh, sure, it could mean that American brands have finally reached a plateau in price because the workers are seeing their benefits and lifestyles erode.  But I’m guessing that a big chunk o’change goes into some deep pockets.  And the inside of those pockets, I’m guessing, never sees a tax bill.

So, before I hear anything more about competitiveness, which has been unlocked and unleashed for a couple decades now, I want to hear how Obama is going to make sure that the fruits of our labor come back to US and not some wealthy person who has enough Swarovski crystal cases for their iphones and $60,000/night hotel rooms.

58 Responses

  1. You sound bitter. Just because the guy is a nothing, destroyed the Democratic majority, doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about, works for Goldman Sacks and does give a crap about the unemployed is not a reason to feel bitter. Consider the alternative; with a independent minded, intelligent and caring about the poor and the lower middle class Democratic president, you wouldn’t have a reason to complain.

  2. how are we supposed to be competative with our energy and gasoline costs skyrocketing. the lifeblood of industry is energy. oh, i got it. we go oversees.

    you must know, if you spent time in california recently, that our gasoline prices are nearing $3.50 per gallon. we are going to go into a double dip recession if something isn’t done. why isn’t this drum being beaten in the media? people very soon won’t be able to drive to their jobs, if they still have jobs. i will be very interested to see if the cost of gasoline is in the sotu address.

    • If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Republicans *want* a double dip recession. People will hate the Democrats and it gives them an excuse to ask for shock doctrine solutions.

      Besides, the future of energy is algae.
      you heard it here first.

    • Word, scruz. I’d be perfectly fine with taking less in take home pay (if there was a guarantee that (a) the millions of people who have lost their jobs would get them back, and (b) if I could get my car payment, insurance, internet, gas, house payment, utlity bills, groceries, yada yada, lowered by the same percentage. At least I’d break even.

      I don’t want anyone asking me or anyone else to take a pay cut when all business will do is put it to the bottom line, and our expenses continue to rise.

      RD, you are so right about the bizspeak. I’m so sick of it I could scream. What makes it even worse coming from Obama is that he’s never even worked in the sort of environment that the most of us do every single day. Clueless doesn’t even begin to describe him.

  3. my he sure uses big words to scold us bitter knitters :mrgreen:

  4. this could all too easily turn into a validation of the claim that what’s good for corporations is good for America

    Reich is correct and that’s the whole idea, selling more snake oil for the MOGW. Beating the dead “competitiveness” horse sounds more like Dan Quayle than a Democrat at this point.

    What I want to know is has Obama leveraged his synergies lately?

  5. Didn’t you know that O has the best evah answer to those high energy prices—buy a green car and shut down fossil fuel production in the US. That should make us competitive—at least we can win the unemployment competition.

    RD—I absolutely agree with your 1st assessment of O—matches mine and nothing he has said or done since has changed it.

  6. Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible.

    barry unpacked: Get rid of OSHA, overtime pay, benies, EPA and any of the other pesky job “destroying” regulations.

    Can’t wait to see what happens with Haley ‘s union busting in SC.

    Oh and thank you well educated creative class. You couldn’t have backed a worse candidate.

  7. The way I see it there’s a circle (or something) made up of,

    Competitiveness -> efficiency -> worker productivity -> lay offs -> Competitiveness

    And I just don’t see how making THAT the most important issue leads to full employment. It seems like the goal of THAT is full-unemployment.

    • The laws of natural selection work with nations as well. We were once competitive and unbeatable. Now, were not. I don’t think the world has accelerated all that much as much as we have lost the characteristics that made this country a vibrant and exciting place to work and make the future. Collapsing your scientific infrastructure, as has happened in the past ten years or so, is probably NOT the way to do it.

      OT: I love the guy who runs the Lube Connection close to here. Damn, he’s nice. Almost makes paying for routine maintenance a pleasure.

      • Of course, it’s just pure coincidence that the decline of the USA relative to other nations roughly correlates with the ascendancy of conservatism in the USA. 😉

  8. Tell me what has happened to the photocell? Why don’t eaach of us have energy for our homes provided by the sun? The technology has been around more than 30 years. Are you teling me there have been no advancement in that technology? Could it be that the energy companies would lose major profit? Things like that. Is that what Obama has in mind? I don’t think so. Not with our use of corn supplementing the oil industry etc. Corn? Using food for energy. Now that was a bright idea. Anybody checked your grocery prices lately?

    • Ahhh, grocery prices. Now, there’s an interesting topic of conversation. Did you know that we export tons and tons of soybeans to China? And china is suffering from inflation, especially rising food prices. Here’s where my lack of understanding in Econ happens: if we are exporting to china and china had the money to buy our grain and there are a couple billion Chinese and only 300 million Americans, wouldn’t we *expect* to see higher food prices here as well? China is booming. Theyre eating more meat. Their standard of living is rising, well, at least for the Chinese in the cities. Does competitiveness also apply to rising food costs? And if we owe so much money to china, will the expect some payment in the form of grain? How does the commodities market work? Grain futures? Am I asking too many questions? Wasn’t that just a question?
      Fire away, finance peeps.

      • I spent three weeks in China a decade ago as a guest of the Chinese gov. Must confess that I found the Chinese people and their cuisine remarkable. The restaurants I was allowed to eat in rivaled those of Paris in terms of kitchen skill. I did travel through the country by train at night and witnessed the filthy pollution and saw pollution in Beijing that made my native city L.A. look good (had to leave to breathe after the great migration)–the Basin can support 650,000). I sensed that any more time in China would be detrimental to my health. Later read that ten percent of the ag land was polluted–as a result of the coal plants– one more online per week. The desertification of China is also reducing farmland needed to feed the population. The cheap goods
        produced by rock-bottom cheap, exploited labor are often of poor quality (how much I admire the products that have survived decades in my home–mostly made in USA, never China). As Naomi Klein recounted in “No Logo,” the cost of production in third-world countries is the least of what the American consumer pays for–it’s the advertising to make that item desirable: the logo on it.

        As for environmental repercussions, streams in formerly pristine streams in Oregon are polluted by mercury that floats from China, and the fish in the rivers deliver it to our table. The residue is found in Lake Tahoe, and more than likely those to the east throughout the U.S. get their dose. We are all
        connected. Coastal California is a big recipient of Chinese pollution, but nothing we experience approaches what the Chinese people have to endure as our manufacturing receptacle sans worker or environmental consideration. If given the choice, I do not buy Made in China, and emphasize
        local production.

        • Very informative comment, thanks. I learned something new. I had never thought of their pollution hitting our shores.

    • Short answer – photovoltaic cells are being made in China.

      Long answer – If you were to build an energy efficient home and put in PV cells to start, the $30,000 initial cost would pay itself back in not having to pay utility prices over 25 years. If a government were actually willing to put up 0% interest loans to do so instead of stupid tax credits, people could actually afford to go off the grid.

      • “people could actually afford to go off the grid”

        And take money away from our lords who own the power companies? What kind of disrespectful peasant are you, anyway? 😉

  9. What if everyone who receives medicare/social security had their taxes directed to medicare and social security funds—you wouldn’t pay more taxes but the taxes you do pay would go directly to those funds and not to general tax revenues. As the boomers increase in numbers, I bet that would help solve the problems in both funds. Of course, the general tax revenues would be less so maybe we would have to cut back on wars and other such things.

    • A proposition like that passed in NJ last November. The measure on the ballot asked whether payroll taxes collected for things like unemployment insurance and disability should be used exclusively for the purpose for which it was collected. The citizens of nj said yes. Overwhelmingly.
      It turns out that the governor, with the consent if the legislature, was raiding the unemployment fund to pay other things in the budget, like health care costs and hospital expenses. A couple billion bucks were expropriated from unemployment funds.
      If the hospitals need money, Christie could always raise the income tax on people making $250k. It would be fair since the rest of us can’t cough up more. Or, Christie could get serious about health care and implement a public option health care plan.
      But noooo, Christie has decided to attack school teachers who have to live in this ridiculously expensive state.
      Anyways, where was I?

      • believe me, if republicans could find a way to export teaching jobs they would do it.

        • Oh, they have a way. More and more classes are going to be on the internet. At my middle school 8th grade students are with a computer for a Spanish class one day. A teacher’s assistant is in the room to make sure they don’t go to any inappropriate websites. Of course she doesn’t know Spanish! They see the Spanish teacher the next day. This way the teacher can see twice as many students. I see larger and larger class sizes and this type of scenario playing out more and more. BTW, I like your 52% solution!

          • Thanks Kate, I am thinking of changing that to the 100 percent solution. I figure that if women hold the white house and both houses of congress for about 200 years, we should be just about even.

        • Teresa, I think the democrats would be there too, but they would blame the republicans for it.

          • you are probably right. I keep thinking we have old fashioned democrats in office, you know, those people who tried to do what was right for the masses?

  10. And btw, does anybody read Jeralyn?
    “My suggestion: CNN should dump Spitzer/Parker and sign Olbermann.”
    She is insane.

  11. That is good news but I read that he’s gonna do a show for NBC thats supposed to rival ESPN. Where I read it, can’t remember. So much info. I’m overwhelmed.

  12. While we’re talkin about food. i’d like to link to an piece by one of my fav writers, Amy. She’s ovcer at No Quarter (I know). But this is well worth a read just to stroll down memerory lane as she said. It will really piss you off.

  13. Hi RD,
    I’ve started working on my blog again – do you care if I add you to the blogroll?

  14. When I hear crap like that, I wonder, “What, no PowerPoint?”

    I guess we’re going to become more competitive by deregulation. So much for standards. (Tell your children not to eat the toys made in this country either–if there are any.)

    I wonder what the executive compensation to average worker pay ratio is in Chindia? (In Japan, it’s 10 to 1. In Canada, it’s 21 to 1. In the US, it’s between 300 and 500 to 1, depending on whose data you take.)

  15. Do the upper classes serve any useful purposes, other than their livers tasting good with fava beans and a nice Chianti? 😈

  16. And then there’s the whole health care issue. Without truly universal health care for everyone, how can people take control of their own lives and set out to work on their own inventions and ideas?

    • that has always been my view. If only we can convince small business to split from big business and support single payer we might actually get somewhere.
      It is going to take someone to take single payer on like Gore did global climate change and educate the country, You can’t just talk about it every four years while running for office and expect people to understand why it would work.

  17. Fantastic post–wish it could be read far and wide. We just went to dinner with both my daughters and they keep complaining that fewer and fewer people are bearing more of the work. They are exhausted.

    This new Obama crap is totally out of touch.

  18. “We are incredibly ingenious. But as soon as the ingenuity is automated, it’s off to Chindia!”

    You might be interested in reading “The Lights in the Tunnel” (free download at thelightsinthetunnel.com/), about the effects of automation and what lies ahead. Prepare for a lot of leisure. The author, Martin Ford, discusses how we might afford to not work.

  19. Means work for $2/hr. after abolishing wicked unions!


    Yes it does!

    “Unleash the ingenuity”

  20. Well I’ve been reading Baudrillard on the universe of simulation and I must say I am clear about all of this shit. It doesn’t help any but I do understand it. Obama is just a hyperreal figure in a political computer game.

  21. We don’t have a government we just have suits walking around with “signs” as masks making us think we do. We don’t tho.

    It’s really that bad.

  22. Actually I think Assange got it wrong when he agreed to let (pause to admire a squadron of geese flying over in formation) mainstream media outlets regulate which leaks were aired. Papers like The Guardian are just as much gatekeepers of establishment information as governments themselves, and just as interested in promoting establishment narratives (like: bomb Iran). They also have self interested concerns like promoting their own “scoops” closer to heart than informing the people. The fact is that all the usual outlets are contaminated and complicit in the establishment narratives and filter accordingly. Wikileaks (and these leaks, by the way, only tell us what diplomats thought their governments wanted to hear) needs a better communication route to us if it is to do its vital job properly.

  23. Like the headed-for-oblivion ENRON saga, “competitive” lectures from a prick who eliminated HIS competition with challenges to their nominating petitions to leave himself uncontested in the actual election are preludes to deja-vous. He’s done. These are all signs of the trap-speak with which he is hanging himself.

  24. … and expect the grandson of a banker to see the complaints about his cozy relationship with the banking industry as puzzling.

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