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Thorstein Veblen: The Thinker Who Saw Through the Competitiveness Agenda

POSTED ON February 29th  - POSTED IN Blog, Competitiveness - the history files
Veblen

Thorstein Veblen

There are many instances in the history of economic thought where economists did not use what today has become the concept of ‘national competitiveness’ but nonetheless wrote about things that look eerily familiar when viewed through the lens of the modern-day Competitiveness Agenda. Veblen’s 1904 Theory of Business Enterprise contains many important passages of this nature. Business leaders, he noted, had become remarkably successful at presenting themselves as the selfless foot soldiers in a national struggle for international economic pre-eminence. Yet for Veblen this was all a carefully constructed smokescreen. They could hardly be seen as guardians of the national interest, he argued, because they enacted significant damage on the economy’s social provisioning capacity in the self-serving desire to protect the social inequalities from which they benefited so handsomely. This latest post for Fools’ Gold by Matthew Watson captures the essence of Veblen’s original argument, while drawing out its implications for understanding the modern-day Competitiveness Agenda.

National Competitiveness: a dangerous obsession, at Max Planck Institute

POSTED ON February 24th  - POSTED IN Blog, Financial Regulation, Tax

From The Tax Justice Network, on a presentation by FG contributor John Christensen:

Highlighting a presentation by TJN’s Director John Christensen at the Max Planck Institute in December, and a chapter in a new book by two TJN authors, on the same theme. First, Max Planck, which published the details yesterday:

Click here for the presentation

Click here for the presentation and podcast

HSBC opts to stay in ‘competitive’ London. (It was never going to leave anyway)

POSTED ON February 15th  - POSTED IN Blog, Financial Regulation, Tax

HSBCThere’s been a lot of talk for a long time about a threat from globe-trotting HSBC to move its headquarters from London to Hong Kong. It seems there’s been a resolution of the question for now, of sorts. As Bloomberg puts it:

“HSBC Holdings Plc recommitted its future to London, ending 10 months of deliberations over whether to move its headquarters, after securing concessions from the U.K. government on regulation and taxes. The shares rose.”

That’s the Competitiveness Agenda at work, right there. Shower goodies on mobile capital and its owners for fear that they’ll flee elsewhere. More specifically, via Reuters:

PwC: using ‘competitiveness’ as crowbar to lobby for mining companies

POSTED ON February 10th  - POSTED IN Blog, Tax

PWCRecently we wrote an article entitled The Ideologists of the Competitiveness Agenda, in which we fingered the Big Four firm of accountants as some of the most important vectors for the general idea that countries simply have to ‘compete’ in certain ways: namely, to shower goodies at wealthy people and multinationals, for fear that they’ll relocate elsewhere. As we’ve often argued: that attitude is not just misplaced, but generically harmful.

Now, here’s a recent example of a Big Four firm, PwC, playing the “competitiveness” game, in a lobbying document report purporting to assess the fiscal regimes for gold mining in four African countries.  (Thanks to Mark Zirnsak of Tax Justice Network Australia for pointing this one out.)

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