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The Ideological Mantra "Competitiveness"

The policy that Merkel and Co. forced on the "crisis countries" has led to social catastrophes there and to a recession in the Eurozone as a whole. The "Pact for Competitiveness" will be a Pact for the Destruction of the European Union. The competition ideology has managed to establish the notion that generalized competition is the real human condition.

Why Merkel's Pact for Europe's Destruction Must Be Stopped

By Robert Musik

[This article published on May 16, 2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://www.gegenblende.de. Robert Musik is a celebrated Austrian writer whose articles have often appeared on www.taz.de.]

After one-and-a-half years of the EU fiscal pact, Germany, Europe's most powerful country, forced the German model of the debt brake on all other Eurozone countries despite all warnings that sustainable public investments would be hurt. Anti-cyclical economic policy was prohibited, so to speak. In short, stupidity became the law. Everything had to go fast out of fear of the markets which as everybody knows are extremely nervous and always bad-tempered. Even social-democratic heads of government who should know better approved and this approval was given the blessing of their parliamentarians. As a rule, approval in such cases is forced with three extortion logics. First, one must hanker after the "political middle," the mainstream, and this middle cannot be convinced of rational economic policy. Secondly, people must consent. A rejection would be like a disavowal of one's head of government. Thirdly, "the markets" will react wickedly if people refuse approval.

We may be witnessing an encore of this evil spectacle. At the EU summit in June, an agreement on a "Convergence- and Competition Pact" could be signed that is pushed by the German government. Its spirit will be marked by the mantra of "competitiveness."

When a country like Greece or Cyprus falls into re-financing problems, it slips under the EU bailout umbrella. In exchange for that, the Troika (the "Des-troikaa" composed of representatives of the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) forces neoliberal "reforms" thathave nothingg to do with refinancing: labor marketderegulations, wage cuts and reduced working hours to strengthen the "competitiveness" of the impacted countries (cf. Article by Thorsten Schulten).


In the past, neoliberal and conservative agitators could only act with countries that accepted relief credits from the bailout umbrellas. They could not command all the others.

The "Convergence- and Competition Pact" can be changed. The pact will mean de facto: (Des-) Troika for everyone.

What makes the matter tricky and complicated is that a pact is sensible. The monetary union functions so badly because countries very different economically that pursue different economic policies have a common currency. Macro-economic imbalances cannot be corrected by monetary policy any more. That members of the monetary union, the individual national economies, develop too divergently must be prevented. For that reason, progressive forces and governments have urged a "European economic government."


A "Pact for Convergence and Competitiveness" bearing the handwriting of the German Black-Yellow government emphasizes competitiveness and starts from the social-economic caricature or distorted image that all of us in Europe compete against each other and stable growth can only be reached when everyone becomes more competitive. The absurdity of this is immediately obvious. Germany was "more competitive" because it depressed wage costs in the last years (that is, introduced low wage sectors, only allowed very trifling wage hikes for average wage earners, deregulated the labor market etc) and worsened the relative competitive position of the others. If they now try to be "competitive" like the Germans or even "more competitive," then Germans must react. This game can be played endlessly. At the end Germans must again work in low wage sectors and be marvelously competitive with the embarrassing disadvantage that there is no one in Europe who can still buy our fine goods produced in our sublime competitiveness. Although the European market represents the common sales market for all European economies, there is no reason to compete. To chase Greece into a competition with Germany is just as prudent as pressing New Koln into a cost-reduction rivalry with Wedding. If Europeans would harmonize economic- and productivity growth with wage growth so that all three factors grow, that would be much more sensible for a healthy economic development.

That rational elements will predominate in the "Convergence- and Competition Pact" is a baseless hope. Angela Merkel and her allies stress that. Merkel already announced that in Davos in shameless openness: ""Consolidation and growth are basically two sides of the same coin to regain trust..."

A "conference of representatives of relevant committees of the European Parliament and representatives of the relevant committees of national parliaments"should ensure the democratic legitimacy of this new structure.

The policy that Merkel and Co. forced on the "crisis countries" has led to social catastrophes there and to an expanding recession in the Eurozone as a whole. Under this backdrop, the "Pact for Competitiveness" will be a Pact for the Destruction of the European Union. Therefore it should be stopped. German Social Democrats should refuse their approval like the Austrian Social Democrats who brought down the pact through the veto of the head of state.


When one thinks a little beyond this affair, the question must be raised how this model could be carried out and which regions and countries of a common economic zone are understood as "rivals" instead of partners. Why is this mantra of "competition" and "competitiveness" so dominant that those who should know better do not argue passionately against this?

A very disconcerting problem confronts us, that the competition ideology has long been the folly of our age. We all are always in competition with each other. That this is ultimately good has been hammered into our heads and persists like a creed.

For decades we heard competition is good because be all become better (we improve our skills and become more productive and so forth in competition with others). Co9mpetition leads us to produce ever finer products that are cheaper. Competition is also fun. Everyone always tries to be better than the others. We can see how amusing this is with children on the soccer field. A schoolboy Darwinism is played out on a grammar school level.

Not everything about competition is wrong. However the competition ideology has managed to establish the notion that generalized competition is the real human condition. Organizing some zones of our social life according to competitive conditions is obviously useful but only zones. Social pathologies are the result if everything is organized according to competitive conditions. Then we all lag behind our possibilities.


Economically speaking, we get better and cheaper products when goods production is organized according to market perspectives. When all aspects of economic life like "labor markets" (that are not markets in the true sense) or the aggregate economic development are exposed to (competitive-) market forces, we establish low wage sectors, lose demand-potential while growth-potential and wealth production remain blow their possibilities.

The possibility of developing talents is withheld from many people. Many people feel treated unjustly. Their motivation is reduced and growth in productivity inhibited. In short, that people will realize better results when they are in competition with each other is an ideological postulate that contradicts empirical reality and common sense.


What benefit do I gain by helping a grandmother cross the street? What benefits do people have in being engaged in the voluntary fire department? Perhaps they reap a benefit for example their respect increases and they have more social prestige. People benefit when they act cooperatively not competitively. We know this from our daily routine. People compete against each other on many occasions. But they also cooperate on other occasions. They have empathy, care for others and help one another. Often even at the same time and in the same place, colleagues on the job compete against each other (for the more prestigious job, higher salaries, lofty positions and so forth) but also act collegially and in solidarity. On one hand, this corresponds to their values. On the other hand,m they have a keen instinct that the one who acts competitively is excluded from community and thus loses the possibility of reaching his or her goals. Whoever only constantly competes sets others in opposition and remains below his or her possibilities.

We all know this instinctively. Nevertheless the mantra of competition ideology is enforced - against all evidence. The competition ideology has led us to regard generalized competition on the macro-plane as useful although we all know on the micro-plane that psychopaths are guided by competitive motives.

We know better outcomes are realized when we cooperatively organize our educational systems and when students learn because learning is fun, not to win against others. Nevertheless we organize our educational systems more and more according to competitive perspectives as in incentive systems bringing schools to compete against each other - with dubious evaluation procedures that usually measure the wrong things and ultimately only leads to worse schools and frustrated teachers. This is much worse at the universities.


In short, there are areas of life where we realize better outcomes when competition plays a part. But claiming that better results are generally achieved when everything is poisoned by the competitive spirit is pure ideology. This ideology is the folly of our age.

Competition generates all kinds of evil. Competition brings a battle mood into the world. Competition that crosses the fences of those fields where it is helpful orders murderous madness. The competition ideology is the greatest evil of our age because it is so generally accepted as useful.

The goal of competitive enhancement of "competitiveness" has become so hegemonic even though competitive enhancement has no other consequence than Europe's destruction as in the European "Pact for Competitiveness."

Comments -

matz - May 21, 2013

For human life, competition is harmful and anti-social. But for capitalism, it is a very realistic foundation, not an ideology. With the crisis - more problems for capitalists in realizing profit - competition for the remaining profits becomes more intense. Capitalism without competition is totally utopian - the disposition or expropriation of capitalists is much more realistic!

Ulrich Seevers on May 19, 2013

Thanks for the article. Yes we compete, act collegially and in solidarity and have a keen instinct for what is good for us and what is not good for us. D%o we have the sensitivity and courage not to put our light in concrete situations under the bushel? Yes, I also see the "competition ideology" as an evil, destructive mantra sapping our str5ength and making us sick individually and collectively.

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