How competitiveness became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture

by William Davis

Widening economic inequality is the topic du jour, but the trend of growing wealth and income disparity has been underway for several decades.  How did mounting inequality succeed in proving culturally and politically attractive for as long as it did?  Rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness.  In this article, and in a new book, Davis attempts to understand the ways in which political authority has been reconfigured in terms of the promotion of competitiveness.

The years since the banking meltdown of 2008 have witnessed a dawning awareness, that our model of capitalism is not simply producing widening inequality, but is apparently governed by the interests of a tiny minority of the population.  The post-crisis period has spawned its own sociological category – ‘the 1%’ – and recently delivered its first work of grand economic theory, in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century, a book dedicated to understanding why inequality keeps on growing.
What seems to be provoking the most outrage right now is not inequality as such, which has, after all, been rising in the UK (give or take Tony Blair’s second term) since 1979, but the sense that the economic game is now being rigged.  If we can put our outrage to one side for a second, this poses a couple of questions, for those interested in the sociology of legitimation.  Firstly, how did mounting inequality succeed in proving culturally and politically attractive for as long as it did?  And secondly, how and why has that model of justification now broken down?
In some ways, the concept of inequality is unhelpful here. There has rarely been a political or business leader who has stood up and publicly said, “society needs more inequality”. And yet, most of the policies and regulations which have driven inequality since the 1970s have been publicly known. Although it is tempting to look back and feel duped by the pre-2008 era, it was relatively clear what was going on, and how it was being justified.  But rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness.
My new book, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Sovereignty, Authority & The Logic of Competition, is an attempt to understand the ways in which political authority has been reconfigured in terms of the promotion of competitiveness.  Competitiveness is an interesting concept, and an interesting principle on which to base social and economic institutions.  When we view situations as ‘competitions’, we are assuming that participants have some vaguely equal opportunity at the outset.  But we are also assuming that they are striving for maximum inequality at the conclusion.  To demand ‘competitiveness’ is to demand that people prove themselves relative to one other.
It struck me, when I began my sociology PhD thesis on which the book is based, that competitiveness had become one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture, especially in the UK.  We celebrate London because it is a competitive world city; we worship sportsmen for having won; we turn on our televisions and watch contestants competitively cooking against each other.  In TV shows such as the Dragons Den or sporting contests such as the Premier League, the division between competitive entertainment and capitalism dissolves altogether.  Why would it be remotely surprising, to discover that a society in which competitiveness was a supreme moral and cultural virtue, should also be one which generates increasing levels of inequality?
Unless one wants to descend into biological reductionism, the question then has to be posed: how did this state of affairs come about?  To answer this, we need to turn firstly to the roots of neoliberal thinking in the 1930s.  For Friedrich Hayek in London, the ordoliberals in Freiburg and Henry Simons in Chicago, competition wasn’t just one feature of a market amongst many.  It was the fundamental reason why markets were politically desirable, because it conserved the uncertainty of the future.  What united all forms of totalitarianism and planning, according to Hayek, was that they refused to tolerate competition.  And hence a neoliberal state would be defined first and foremost as one which used its sovereign powers to defend competitive processes, using anti-trust law and other instruments.
One way of understanding neoliberalism, as Foucault has best highlighted, is as the extension of competitive principles into all walks of life, with the force of the state behind them. Sovereign power does not recede, and nor is it replaced by ‘governance’; it is reconfigured in such a way that society becomes a form of ‘game’, which produces winners and losers. My aim in The Limits of Neoliberalism is to understand some of the ways in which this comes about.
In particular, I examine how the Chicago School Law and Economics tradition achieved an overhaul (and drastic shrinkage) in the role of market regulation.  And I look at how Michael Porter’s theory of ‘national competitiveness’ led to a new form of policy orientation, as the search for competitive advantage.  Both of these processes have their intellectual roots in the post-War period, but achieved significant political influence from the late 1970s onwards.  They are, if you like, major components of neoliberalism.
By studying these intellectual traditions, it becomes possible to see how an entire moral and philosophical worldview has developed which assumes that inequalities are both a fair and an exciting outcome of a capitalist process which is overseen by political authorities.  In that respect, the state is a constant accomplice of rising inequality, although corporations, their managers and shareholders, were the obvious beneficiaries.  Drawing on the work of Luc Boltanski, I suggest that we need to understand how competition, competitiveness and, ultimately, inequality are rendered justifiable and acceptable – otherwise their sustained presence in public and private life appears simply inexplicable.
And yet, this approach also helps us to understand what exactly has broken down over recent years, which I would argue is the following: At a key moment in the history of neoliberal thought, its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena.  Under the latter model, there is no distinction between arenas of politics, economics and society.  To convert money into political power, or into legal muscle, or into media influence, or into educational advantage, is justifiable, within this more brutal, capitalist model of neoliberalism.  The problem that we now know as the ‘1%’ is, as has been argued of America recently, a problem of oligarchy.
Underlying it is the problem that there are no longer any external, separate or higher principles to appeal to, through which oligarchs might be challenged.  Legitimate powers need other powers through which their legitimacy can be tested; this is the basic principle on which the separation of executive, legislature and judiciary is based.  The same thing holds true with respect to economic power, but this is what has been lost.
Regulators, accountants, tax collectors, lawyers, public institutions, have been drawn into the economic contest, and become available to buy.  To use the sort of sporting metaphor much-loved by business leaders; it’s as if the top football team has bought not only the best coaches, physios and facilities, but also bought the referee and the journalists as well.  The bodies responsible for judging economic competition have lost all authority, which leaves the dream of ‘meritocracy’ or a ‘level playing field’ (crucial ideals within the neoliberal imaginary) in tatters.  Politically speaking, this is as much a failure of legitimation as it is a problem of spiralling material inequality.
The result is a condition that I term ‘contingent neoliberalism’, contingent in the sense that it no longer operates with any spirit of fairness or inclusiveness.  The priority is simply to prop it up at all costs.  If people are irrational, then nudge them.  If banks don’t lend money, then inflate their balance sheets through artificial means.  If a currency is no longer taken seriously, political leaders must repeatedly guarantee it as a sovereign priority.  If people protest, buy a water canon.  This is a system whose own conditions are constantly falling apart, and which governments must do constant repair work on.
The outrage with the ‘1%’ (and, more accurately, with the 0.1%), the sense that even the rich are scarcely benefiting, is to be welcomed.  It is also overdue.  For several years, we have operated with a cultural and moral worldview which finds value only in ‘winners’.  Our cities must be ‘world-leading’ to matter.  Universities must be ‘excellent’, or else they dwindle.  This is a philosophy which condemns the majority of spaces, people and organizations to the status of ‘losers’. It also seems entirely unable to live up to its own meritocratic ideal any longer.  The discovery that, if you cut a ‘winner’ enough slack, eventually they’ll try to close down the game once and for all, should throw our obsession with competitiveness into question.  And then we can consider how else to find value in things, other than their being ‘better’ than something else.

William Davies is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is leading the development of a new PPE Degree. His book, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty & The Logic of Competition, is available in the Theory Culture & Society series at Sage. To buy it for the reduced price of £29.75, visit the Sage website and use discount code UK14SM08.


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Jason Killbourn
Jason Killbourn
Aug 5, 2016 5:21 PM

Some very good points raised by both the article and a number of the comments. However, I do feel we should look a bit further back, to1898 to be precise, and something of a watershed in economic thinking. I am talking about the foundation of the Chicago School, the story of which is, to my mind, the beginnings of neo-liberalism. I realise, on the face of it, this sounds like a rather bold claim, but when we look closely at the events surrounding it and the characters involved, we can see it’s a very familiar story, as we have a group of wannabe plutocrats, expertly using PR techniques, some years before PR was even invented, to sell the world a very poor deal indeed, whilst making it look like they were doing everyone a big favour.
This was no ordinary PR campaign, as it sought to control politicians, the media, and most importantly academics, which it did so using staggering financial resources*, and at the heart of this move was a fairly simple corruption of the very language of economics, but it was one that would allow the monopolies these men had built to endure and flourish. Their reason for doing this, was, to my mind, a relatively banal act of protectionism, but its consequences would be profound, as it truly shaped the world we live in today.
So what were they trying to protect their wealth from? The answer is classical economics and a powerful grass roots movement that had sprung up from it in the years after the American Civil War, spearheaded by a man called Henry George and his book “Progress and Poverty”, which was at the time the second best selling book in America after the bible. In all fairness there isn’t much in the book that isn’t in some way expressed in Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, but George, writing a century later, did so with a clarity and sense of common touch that made economics accessible to the common man**, and the masses clearly went out in their droves and actually bought a book on economics. George himself was also a journalist and politician, being a household name in North America, and even did a tour of Europe and the British Isles. It being worth noting that he enjoyed a far greater degree of popularity and success at the time than his contemporary, Karl Marx, yet oddly enough, comparatively few people have even heard of him today, which is testament to just how well the campaign against him worked, as his reputation and economics were all but erased from the public’s consciousness in little over a generation.
The reason why the great Robber Barons had an issue with this classical economist lies in the central theme of his book, which is the injustice of the monopoly of land and the notion that land is clearly common wealth***. Furthermore, it was the concept of a tax system based on the unimproved value of land, which reclaims everyone’s share of this commonwealth and its equal redistribution, that really got their tighty whitey’s in a twist, and quite understandably so. This quite logical progression of classical economics was effectively proposing a bold socio-economic reformation that would kill off the last remnants of feudalism and call time on the age of empires, which was obviously anathema to the Robber Barons, who were the new empire-building, feudalists on the block. They couldn’t field a reasoned argument against this, so instead, they did something surprisingly sophisticated for the time, and a new school of economics was founded. The neoclassical school had a significant difference in the sense that it dropped the value difference between Land and Capital****, which was justified as a “simplification” of economics, though I would say it’s clearly had quite the opposite effect. What it did achieve, was to allow common wealth to become private wealth, which was essentially a license to monopolise land and resources at a transnational level. The neoclassical school has been around for well over 100 years now, yet no convincing reason for their doing this has been forthcoming in all that time, which leads me to suspect that, just like most neo-liberal policies, there is a perfectly good reason for what’s been done, but it’s not the one they care to admit to.
So, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with competition in itself, or even a free market for that matter, but, when you apply those things within the framework of the wrong economic model, like one that has a distinctly non-level playing field that’s been warped out of shape by unchecked monopolies, then terrible and unjust things will occur. In fact I would go so far as to say that, because of this hopelessly slanted playing field, what we generally perceive to be capitalism is no such thing, the best term I have heard used to describe it is Allodial Capitalism, because it is principally concerned with the misappropriation and domination of land and common wealth resources, and, as Henry George pointed out, if you own land, then those who depend upon it are little more than your chattel slaves.
Now, those old Robber Barons, are long since filed away in their mausoleums, but their legacy (and dynasties in some cases) is very much with us today, as it comprises the neo-liberal elite that we find ourselves struggling against. Change however, cannot be that far off now, as things are slowly reaching a crisis point, and we have only to look at the latest statistics on how many working hours an average American citizen has to put in, per week, in order to pay for the roof over their heads, and we can see David Ricardo’s law of rent drawn to it’s all too painful conclusion. There being no marginal alternative available, these people are working the hours of slaves, and when I consider that it is also becoming the same here in the UK and elsewhere, then it’s not unreasonable to conclude that we are being enslaved by a monopoly, and maybe that’s the logical end game of neoclassical economics, that not just the land is capitalised, but the people wind up getting owned too. So, when anyone asks me what my political stance is, though a technically accurate answer might be a Georgist with leanings towards anarchism, my stock reply is that I am an abolitionist.
*$35,000,000 in one private donation alone, paid by John D Rockefeller.
**I’d personally say it isn’t really all that accessible by modern standards and perhaps the average person of the 1870’s was a whole lot smarter than we might have previously given them credit for, so you’d be best advised to maybe start reading some of Prof Mason Gaffney’s work as a first port of call.
***i.e. that which existed before mankind and is logically the property of everyone, which would include natural resources and anything not made by man that can be monopolised by virtue of its scarcity.
****There being the three factors in classical economics of Land, Labour, and Capital.

Aug 4, 2016 3:27 PM

The core separation trauma that is common to our ‘entry’ or focussing into the human condition (ing) is a loss of identity, in terms of loss of a sense of intimacy of being that in various ways embodies as abandonment and betrayal, and a feeling of being denied love and power, resulting in a fragmented and conflicted sense of disconnection and distrust over deeper rage and terror.
The rallying in self-concept or self-image is an attempt to operate a ‘unity’ over the sense of chaotic self-experience such as to push down and deny the hated and feared, whilst asserting a surface presentation or persona. Denied self is automatically projected and our innate capacity to recognize the Life is replaced with a world and others that essentially re-enact our separation trauma – as the failure to validate our identity – apart from the perpetual struggle to do so through every kind of thought, word and deed.
The archetypal patterning of such fragmentation and attempt at dominion over one’s experience and one’s world operates largely beneath the conscious or surface awareness.
Competition for dominance or first place is typified by the belief one is better or right or that one is or should be the ruler or the maker and arbiter of rules. Such a one hates not to win and hates to be told what to do – unless it already agrees with what they choose to do – where they will go along with an ‘ally’ or ‘asset’ as if it is part of their own purpose – for as long as it serves their purpose. The investment in an identity becomes so great that the identity itself is protected from change – excepting as it increases the sense of power and protection.
This overlay of identity is not actually in control – but is supporting a narrative sense of control over the undercurrent of original separation survival strategies. Beneath everything is a nature of discovery, recognition and communication that the outer personality feeds on and indeed depends upon but takes as if by right and presumes to be a power of independence. The more our nature is denied, suppressed and subverted to fit a ‘control mentality’ the more it is perceived as enemy and threat and the consolidation of this illusion of power operates evil or against the flow and nature of being, so as to bring us to crisis in which the opportunity to re-evaluate our foundations and our currency of definitions and beliefs – so as to open fresh perspective with re-integrative opportunity in place of the struggle to manage an impossible situation.
But to a desire for power over the hated or feared ‘chaos of feelings’ and resultant experience of self-transformation felt to be humiliation and defeat, any rising of solidarity and cooperation in such ‘uncontrolled’ perspective has to be stamped out, undermined or subverted to serve the fear-control agenda. Not unlike Herod to the prospect of a new ‘king’ rising. For those who claim power do not willingly share it but operate out of a private self-interest that allows no other competitor – whilst setting all others in division and competition so as to confound and weaken them.
Without words or edicts, communication can be made that announces the shift from a relative playtime to a demand for obedience and conformity. 9/11 operated a switch in the consciousness of many in the world that operated at much deeper levels than an act of terror by enemies causing loss of life – being in a sense an assault on ‘reality’ – for such is the power of a lie asserted as official narrative – an act of terror on the mind; an announcement of power by which the mind breaks – and the fragmented sense aligns within what seems to be power against any movement to challenge or question or bring out into open communication.
You do not need to be against anyone or anything to be the best of yourself that you can be, now. But if any challenging situation enables you to call on resources and develop abilities beyond what you previously believed – then there is a cause for gratitude upon recognition that life also works this way – and in this sense a presentation of competition can be used as an expansion and deeper alignment of consciousness rather than a struggle of ‘powers’.
The false unity of top-down power is the old paradigm that seems to come naturally but demands enormous resources to run. But here is another perspective rising from a true grounded appreciation of worth – for the acceptance of true worth is automatically extended rather than projecting self-power upon the ‘unworthy’. This, however, is always a matter of willingness – whereas the alignment in the power to (self-righteously) hate or deny others as losers or un-valids is always a matter of coercive deceits aligning in mutual reinforcements as an official narrative ‘reality’.
The fear of losing your place set the path to hating and blaming others – and to getting back or taking from them what you feel rightfully yours. It doesn’t matter ‘who started it’ it only matters to come back into right place, right relation and right timing – that is to have your life back in a true alignment instead of chasing or struggling from a fearful mis-identification that is in lockstep with everyone else of a similar futility.

Aug 4, 2016 10:37 AM

Sorry but you have it all wrong and are failing to understand why the fundamentals neoliberal economics are so very destructive. The use of ‘competitiveness’ context is also inappropriate as is its implied definition.
Neoliberal economics underpins globalisation which is the global search for the least cost opportunities for the use of labour and capital – this is called finance-based planning. This means that on one side of the balance sheet an economic system is imposed on countries via globalisation and the propaganda parrots that people have been brought out of poverty. It means they are exploited, their countries polluted and their economies cannot develop economic independence. On the other side of the balance sheet first world economies are de-industralised via in-sourcing, off-shoring, out-sourcing, etc. which means a loss of both white and blue collar jobs. The only people that benefit from this are the 1% who are ‘C’ level people in companies and shareholders. For a few cents more profits these clowns have destroyed millions of jobs and the viability of the global economy.
Being ‘competitive’ via technology acquisition is fundamental to maintaining industries, creating new industries, creating jobs and balancing trade. This is utterly different to slack use of the term in the article. This is called technology-based planning. This is totally at odds with globalisation. Technology-based planning seeks to ‘internalise’ competitiveness via the creation of competitive products and services within a national economy which means it underpins and creates economic well-being. The US after WW2 used to practice technology planning but fell into the trap of thinking that endlessly printing money (Finance-based planning) would ensure dominance.
The 1% morons have created a system drowning in debt that has crippled the lives of millions, has the potential to destroy trillions in value and has produced a system that will collapse. It’s not a case of might.

Aug 4, 2016 7:23 AM

The actual key issue here is about whether the limited stock corporation is the best model for business or not.
With limited stock corporations, the statutes require the management to operate to maximise returns to shareholders.
Note the word ‘maximise’. It is not ‘optimise’, it is ‘maximise’.
Let’s discuss that, shall we?
A limited stock corporation is composed of: shareholders, management, workers. In their primary circle of concern are suppliers, distributors, retailers and customers. Beyond that are regulatory authorities and governments.
By seeking to solely maximise returns to shareholders, the limited stock corporation shows no interest in the welfare of workers and only in the welfare of managers inasmuch as they maximise returns to shareholders.
So it’s pretty clear to see that the logical end-game of a society dominated by limited stock corporations is the impoverishment of workers, the thinning out of middle management and the retention of a small core of highly paid senior managers tasked with maximising returns to shareholders.
Of course, if one stock corporation reduces its workers wages to the bone, then those workers will be less able to buy other company’s products, which has further knock-on effects to the economy.
But the shareholders of stock corporation A don’t care about that, at least they don’t unless they start seeing a diminution of returns themselves. Society means nothing to them, spoilt self-centred bastards that they are.
So what do they do, having reduced many peoples lives to penury? They try and make out how good they are, DOING CHARIDEE. If there is anything more obscene than a multimillionaire, who by day tells people to earn minimum wage on zero hours contracts and starve if they don’t comply, trying to tell the world how caring they are through CHARIDEE, I don’t know of it. It is the first thing I wish to eliminate from this world: the right of anyone using inappropriate zero hours contracts in their line of business to buy respectability through charitable donations.
It’s not the only way capitalism can go, but it’s usually the end-game. Firms which treat employees well, retain them for years and pay them reasonably may end up needing to charge more than fly-by-night contractors. It always depends on the customer base who wins, but if you get politicians who slash and burn decent employers to get cheap headlines, the fly-by-nights will win. If people are right on the limit, they can’t afford to pay more to decent employers, so the fly-by-nights win.
Capitalism has an end-game which is always the 0.0001% win and everyone else is a slave.
What needs to be discussed is the legal form most appropriate for business. There are several and not all require the primary motive to be the maximisation of returns to shareholders.
Here are some possibilities:
1. Within the bounds of fiscal solvency (i.e. there is a requirement to either deliver an annual cash surplus or at least to remain within the bounds of fiscal reserves defined as appropriate for the industry in question), the aim could be threefold:
i. Delivery of the best product/service possible to customers.
ii. Provision of the most fruitful life conditions for all employees.
iii. Creation and retention of jobs in the community the business is based.
iv. Linking of shareholder returns to overall staff remuneration.
These things are inter-linked. You obviously can’t employ more people than the business is capable of sustaining, so in order to employ more, you need to create more products, more profitable products, greater global reach of products etc. By doing those things, you may also be able to pay your employees more. By linking shareholder returns to overall staff remuneration, it is in the interests of the shareholders to pay their employees well, since they can only get dividends if their employees are well looked after. It also gives them greater reason to dismiss poor employees, since it should not be the shareholders’ responsibility to be carrying weak employees at the expense of capital returns.
Under such circumstances, it would be reasonable for a company to ask for the Government to ‘soft land’ a new employee for three months by paying them the equivalent of unemployment benefit at the start and gradually tapering it off as the firm contributes through seeing benefit.
It would be reasonable to pay employees bonuses in shares as they become committed to the firm etc.
The real thing that has to be discussed is the disconnect between the narrow private interests of corporation shareholders and wider society.
It is utterly unacceptable for any politician to say that this cannot be discussed, nor to suggest that it cannot fundamentally be changed. Politicians who don’t want it changed are in the pay of those who it suits not to change things. Which isn’t much use for the 99%.
It doesn’t mean you become communists, it means that there must be legal changes to the nature of the stock corporation.

Aug 4, 2016 8:48 AM
Reply to  rtj1211

Unfortunately, you have succumbed to the neoliberal dogma about ‘maximising returns for shareholders’ that has only taken hold since Milton Friedman’s lunatic doctrine was seized on by the 1% and their trickle down nonsense. Limited companies have been around for centuries but until the Reagan/Thatcher/Friedman years, there was no talk of suing companies that did not maximise shareholder returns, back in the days when employers viewed employees as valuable assets and respected their rights and fair share of company profits in terms of wages and working conditions etc.
According to gov.uk;
“1. Directors’ responsibilities
As a director of a limited company, you must:

try to make the company a success, using your skills, experience and judgment
follow the company’s rules, shown in its articles of association
make decisions for the benefit of the company, not yourself
tell other shareholders if you might personally benefit from a transaction the company makes
keep company records and report changes to Companies House and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
make sure the company’s accounts are a ‘true and fair view’ of the business’ finances
file your accounts with Companies House and your Company Tax Return with HMRC
pay Corporation Tax
register for Self Assessment and send a personal Self Assessment tax return every year - unless it’s a non-profit organisation (eg a charity) and you didn’t get any pay or benefits, like a company car

You can hire other people to manage some of these things day-to-day (eg an accountant) but you’re still legally responsible for your company’s records, accounts and performance.”
Where does any of this support the dogma of ‘maximising shareholder returns’?
Take a recent example of this – ‘Sir’ Philip Green and BHS, where he has certainly maximised shareholder returns – namely to his Monaco residing wife – but in so doing has destroyed BHS. The very opposite of a director’s responsibility to ‘try to make the company a success’.
Maximising shareholder returns and making the company a success are often contradictory.
Unfortunately too many people have accepted this dogma unthinkingly, like so much of present day MSM parroting ‘there is no alternative’, ‘we need austerity’ ‘Corbyn is unelectable’, ‘Trident must be renewed’, ‘Trump is a clown’, ‘Russia invaded Ukraine’, ‘Assad must go’, ‘Putin wants to conquer Europe’, plus various other rubbishy propaganda that is simply stated as fact not opinion.

Aug 4, 2016 2:25 PM
Reply to  rtj1211

I don’t see how the concept of limited stock corporations has any bearing on where the notion of competition and competitiveness as desirable values comes from. Limited stock corporations have existed for a long time and were formed to protect investors from having to sell personal assets and facing homelessness and bankruptcy if the business they invested in went belly-up through no fault of their own. Such companies are not necessarily unethical and their values can include collective values, empathy and compassion for others. Shareholders can be managers and employees of the company and corporate goals need not only be about the bottom line.
The legal treatment of corporations as equivalent to human individuals may be an issue especially in the United States where the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted by the judiciary to give corporations the same rights as individuals. But this does not mean that corporations in themselves are the problem.

Aug 4, 2016 9:44 PM
Reply to  Jen

Cartels of powerful lobbies – that capture the regulatory laws so as to protect their effective monopoly – and this includes private central banks becoming the statutory provision and control of the money supply for what otherwise may have been a sovereign nation – are part of the problem.
As well as the above is the lack of any real responsibility to host nations, environment or population. The outsourcing of pain and toxicity in return for insignificant fines. The race to the bottom in nations offering tax havens and sweeteners to attract corporate investment by which assets and real wealth is stripped out in return for gov taxation on the workers whose trickle down is whittled down to subsistence levels.
The emergence of so called ‘Trade deals’ illustrates the ‘coming out’ of Corporate technocracy from the revolving door of puppet-show governance to reveal an elitists club running their rules with no other voice being able to effect more than token challenge – excepting of course the money-controllers and their puppet mastery of information and narrative control – along with weaponry of all levels of effect.
The law regarding corporations needs re-aligning to serve the whole, and yet without a shift in individuals to realign their own template of self definition and belief to serve the whole such a change in the law either cannot happen or would be subverted to merely superficial change of no real consequence.
Ideas to which we are not awake, determine our world-experience yet remain hidden while we become entangled in their effects.

Aug 4, 2016 12:56 AM

The notion of competition and competitiveness as virtues may have come from Protestant Christianity. Protestantism celebrates hard work and acquiring wealth (including material wealth, yes, but other kinds of wealth too) as signs of God’s grace. People who failed in life could be regarded as sinful and not deserving of God’s grace.
Competition as a value in itself is also a form of Social Darwinism though which came first is a chicken-versus-egg question. Certainly once Charles Darwin made public his theory of natural selection as a major force in driving evolution, various people jumped on his theory and distorted it to justify competition and the social inequalities it produced, and even extended it to justify imperialism and “allowing” First Nations peoples in European colonies to die out.
A helpful introduction to Social Darwinism and how Darwin’s theory of evolution was adapted into laissez-faire capitalism can be found here:
I also found this useful article on how 19th-century British philosopher Herbert Spencer applied Darwin’s theory to give intellectual gloss to laissez-faire capitalism in the US:
From the second article, here is Spencer’s application of Darwin’s theory to society in a nutshell:
The “Fittest” and the “Unfit”
Herbert Spencer based his concept of social evolution, popularly known as “Social Darwinism,” on individual competition. Spencer believed that competition was “the law of life” and resulted in the “survival of the fittest.”
“Society advances,” Spencer wrote, “where its fittest members are allowed to assert their fitness with the least hindrance.” He went on to argue that the unfit should “not be prevented from dying out.”
Unlike Darwin, Spencer believed that individuals could genetically pass on their learned characteristics to their children. This was a common, but erroneous belief in the 19th century. To Spencer, the fittest persons inherited such qualities as industriousness, frugality, the desire to own property, and the ability to accumulate wealth. The unfit inherited laziness, stupidity, and immorality.
According to Spencer, the population of unfit people would slowly decline. They would eventually become extinct because of their failure to compete. The government, in his view, should not take any actions to prevent this from happening, since this would go against the evolution of civilization.
Spencer believed his own England and other advanced nations were naturally evolving into peaceful “industrial” societies. To help this evolutionary process, he argued that government should get out of the way of the fittest individuals. They should have the freedom to do whatever they pleased in competing with others as long as they did not infringe on the equal rights of other competitors.
Spencer criticized the English Parliament for “over-legislation.” He defined this as passing laws that helped the workers, the poor, and the weak. In his opinion, such laws needlessly delayed the extinction of the unfit.

Aug 4, 2016 2:25 AM
Reply to  Jen

I am afraid, Protestantism – in general – is not guilty. Calvinism (exactly predestination or predeterminism) is. It is a bit ridiculous that the predeterminism idea opposes to the free will principle.

Aug 4, 2016 10:15 AM
Reply to  Nerevar

Yes, the Protestantism thing is a white elephant – as though Catholics or other religions don’t enthuse about profits?
It’s just a handy excuse for your wrongdoings – saying that ‘We’re on a mission from Gpd’.

Aug 4, 2016 2:12 PM
Reply to  reinertorheit

While other religions and Christian denominations may or may not enthuse about making profits, the peculiar nature of Protestantism that states that grace comes from God if one believes in him and in the central doctrines of Christianity (and is not dependent on trying to please him) combined with the belief in predestination and other ideas such as emphasising individual self-reliance could be partly cause and justification for competitive behaviour. Believing in God and the tenets of Christianity and working for the glory of Christianity bring wealth and prosperity and those are seen as signs of God’s grace working through individuals. What other Christian denomination or religion would go so far as to say that having wealth and material goods is a sign of God’s grace working in humans but being poor is an indication of lack of faith leading to sloth and sinfulness?

Aug 4, 2016 4:30 PM
Reply to  Jen

“What other Christian denomination or religion would go so far as to say that having wealth and material goods is a sign of God’s grace working in humans but being poor is an indication of lack of faith leading to sloth and sinfulness?”
You’re right: none. Only Protestantism has produced such a socio-economic doctrine.

Aug 4, 2016 5:32 PM
Reply to  Vaska

Do not get me wrong, please, but:
Damn, it looks like the reformation was one of turning points of modern history when many things went definitely wrong.

Aug 4, 2016 7:52 PM
Reply to  Nerevar

Oh Boy! That’s a tall tale!
There’s a whole universe out there containing reading material awaiting your
discernment and criticality! Have at it!
Men think they think upon the great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side.
– “Corn-pone Opinions”

Aug 4, 2016 8:25 PM
Reply to  Julian

No offence meant, nor taken. Apologies accepted.
I am just trying to warn that whole discussion can take an anti-religion sludge. Even in definitely-non-mainstream forum, it should be wise to avoid this. Anxiously or more.

Aug 4, 2016 9:58 PM
Reply to  Nerevar

Noting that anti religion is another example of competing identities.
Identity that depends on being AGAINST – is fatherless or illegitimate for it gets all that it seems to have by the denial of the life of the other.
The lie and the father of the lie arise in ‘resisting evil’ in the sense Jesus warns against.
For what you resist persists.
Fools think he means succumb to evil or be a doormat for evil. But is that interpretation not because they NEED their enemy to cover over that in themselves they are as yet unwilling to own – preferring rather to cast the first stone?
No one can change what they are unwilling to own. Thus we give power away to that which protects our un-consciousness while asserting it as our waking consciousness. Ma tricks 😉

Aug 5, 2016 12:19 AM
Reply to  Julian

@ Nerevar: My comment that the peculiarities of Protestant Christianity could have in part laid the groundwork for the notion of competitiveness as a desirable value in neoliberal capitalism was not intended as an anti-religious diatribe. The fact is though that it was within Protestantism that the idea of grace coming from God (without your having to slave your life away working for grace and never knowing if you had earned enough grace to enter Heaven, which was the old mediaeval Catholic position) on the basis of faith alone, which then motivates you to work hard, was twisted and distorted by people who, having wealth and riches (not wholly earned by the sweat of their own brows by the way), sought to justify their own luck by claiming that they were rich because they had faith while others who were poor or unsuccessful were lazy. This distortion combined with a belief in predestination (in which some are destined to be blessed with grace and others not) ended up becoming a stick to beat the poor with.
Likewise the discussion here on competitiveness as a value is about how our definition and understanding of “competition” have distorted the concept and how this distortion has come to infect and distort Western culture and society onto a path of self-destruction. But we need to know how this concept arose in the first place and how it came to be deformed. This means having to acknowledge that some ideas and concepts which initially started as reforms can be twisted if taken too literally and/or too far.

Aug 5, 2016 6:27 PM
Reply to  Jen

Yes, anything can be marketized or weaponized – and will be – by a competitive hatred or fear of losing.
The exclusive or self-special mentality makes of salvation a scarcity and specialness – but clearly not in any real sense of being saved from fear-dictates FOR joy of true being – but within an agreed currency of socially endorsed stigma and invalidation.
The adulteration of the Christ teaching is in part the inevitably fearful misinterpretation – along with the opportunistic trojan hiding place for claiming ‘authority’ by association.
Personally I hold that those who KNOW they are poor in Spirit know blessing because they have at least recognized where their treasure is – even if they feel unable to ‘hold’ or abide deeply in it yet. The only ‘denial’ of love’s awareness operates in reflection of our own determination to judge and assert as a power unto ourselves. For even if love is extended to such an exclusion zone – it will be perceived as something else – something weakening or threatening to one’s ‘power’.
Jesus story exemplifies a lack of competitiveness in which the first reaction of a seeming separate and threatened ‘scarcity’ self is passed over or paused so as the discern the will of the whole… or the balance point within the wholeness of the situation of a desire for joy or healing.
Thinkers cannot approach his example because thinking has already made its own mind up – and see only as their judgements allow. But that doesn’t mean thinking cannot serve a loving or integrative perspective – but it does not ‘lead’ in the claim to be ‘First’.
If we watch our mind – we notice competitive and comparative judgements and exclusions and rejections going on all the time as the ‘maintenance’ of a sense of self that is not at rest in its own being.
I might add that I don’t see competition in itself as evil or bad – for the truth of anything is given by the purpose to which it is aligned; the use for which it is employed. But if another can induce you to shrink or become self-doubting as a result of some ruse – then they can expand in the difference you then allow. So the use of subtle competitive and comparative ruse is essential to the invalidating of the people as a whole – upon which the very few then exploit and derive their sense of self-power from. However – everyone on Earth is involved in this at various levels – or they would not be vulnerable to deceit and would know their power – as did Jesus – as something inherent to their being – and not an ‘add-on that can then be taken away. But we cannot readily have conversation on this because of the investment in currencies of definition that are considered self-evident, unquestionable and operate the ‘reality’ that frames our thought and experience.

Aug 4, 2016 11:41 PM
Reply to  Jen

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate
God made them, high or lowly
And ordered their estate

The Catholic Hymnal

Aug 5, 2016 8:21 AM
Reply to  reinertorheit

Because people can ascribe such powers to God or genes or anything else does not take away from that your perception and experience reflects what YOU have chosen or accepted as meaningful or value to you. Because almost everyone agrees a particular definition of ‘power’ – and competes for it – we have a world of fear of loss of power – where that power is worshipped as an independent and private self.
My sense of God includes the bestowing of the gift of Existence – as the very gifting of God – or Everything – with the perfect freedom to go forth and multiply or magnify whatever you give and accept as your joy. To God, ‘you are My Beloved who is My delight’ – but what you are to yourself can be anything you accept and therefore give as your reality.
The making of a persona or masking sense of self-construct is part of the insistence in playing the game of competing for a power you never had nor even really want. But like a virtual reality helmet, once you ‘enter’ or entrance the world of fragmented personae, a very different experience of ‘reality’ compels a very different sense of self.
The lens of thought through which we experience and by which we identify ourself is itself hidden by the mind of more-than and better-than, less-than and worse-than. My sense is that self-guilt and self-hatred operates a denial of love and life such as to invert or reverse our mind to work against it, beneath a self justifying narrative.
The personality cannot hear or understand any of this as it was made to deny any exposure to it – as the ‘power’ of denial and dissociation. However, we each know what it is to feel ourself denied – and can come to recognize we give the same measure – and so come to question this as a valid currency.
When enough people get stuck in the same place, they call it reality.

Aug 4, 2016 9:10 PM
Reply to  Jen

Yes – who exactly defines what fits?
The mentality of the Grand Overview is so easily in a complete disconnect from the human family and its unfolding experience. And so ‘Grand Ideas’ are touted as ‘Great Discoveries of an Enlightened Era’ and work against anything real growing from the ground up that can meet a compassionate sense of top-down – rather than a dictating self-righteousness.
Fitness for purpose needs to align with awakened purpose – which is innate and uncovered rather than manufactured and asserted or imposed.
It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – but really I feel it is a partial interpretation of knowledge for to truly know is in the heart sense of a wholeness – but to attempt to articulate or define this is to re-enter the world of interpretation. I read the Promethean symbol as taking something out of its natural context and thus re-defining its function and nature in the framing of the mis-take. The underbelly of the light-bringer is of course a terror. Hiding in a false light gains a temporary power at a price. We don’t necessarily compete for the goods so much as for the means to allay the evils – or ‘outsource them’ onto others and so are fear-driven rather than good-seeking.
A Christed sense of worth has nothing to do with social or personal status whatsoever – but its acceptance depends on a willingness of eyes to see and ears to hear. Who tries to become worthy secretly believes their own lack and teaches lack of worth in terms of the measure of their own judgement. That’s why self-righteous ‘actors’ insinuate a false sense of worthiness and a distorted reading of any teachings of true awakening – to subvert them into crab barrel futility.
Recognition of worth is a spontaneous shift from the mind of (self) hatred.
Back to competition – a worthy opponent is one who meets and engages in the game at a level that makes it passionate and exciting to play. The gaming mentality is a large part of the human fascination – and even the game of global domination is likened to a game of chess. And for all who engage directly there are so many more who attend from the sidelines – feeding the dynamic of conflict, taking sides, investing in outcomes and vicariously getting off on it.
Hence in a blame culture there is a morbid fascination with who gets vilified and a tendency to join in at some level – as some little play in the game of power.
Perhaps the issue is whether balance and communication can be maintained in a competitive situation. For some, yes – but for many the good v evil mentality is triggered and truth is sacrificed to war. Which means war is now defined and accepted truth – and truth redefined as invalid, irrelevant and insignificant to the true ’cause’.
I don’t believe that competitiveness is a contemporary virtue – so much as an obeisance of conformity by which those human traits are NOT embodied or given voice, that witness to communion, community and true communication.
The heart is denied from this world. Jesus illuminates the symbol of a mentality dependent upon the death of love – as one polarity of a choice that we cannot change until we recognize we are making it. In competition with our own being. This is of course absurd – and no less is our mind and world in its fragmented conflict of competing ‘identities’.
Recognise your part and withdraw support and allegiance. If you come from a true sense of yourself – you are not waiting on a specific outcome. Yet if you wait on specific conditions before coming forth in your life – you wait for ever. The call to joy is always Now – and yet the competing thoughts are always saying you cant afford to give it your willingness – yet. Divide and rule out (deny) a living sense of wholeness. Identify in this as personal ‘power’ and take your ‘power’ at the expense of others. But the power of love will be your forfeit – in fact you wont even be able to believe in it. Love un-worthiness operates a cold light of judgement that seems irrefutable. That’s how powerful the mind is through whatever you give focus to. Too big to fail? Or too addicted to the game?

Aug 3, 2016 11:56 PM

Russian geographer, biologist. economist. anarchist and polymath Pyotr Kropotkin produced a book called Mutual Aid in 1902 – and published in English in London, where he happened to be at the time.
Kropotkin argued that examples from the natural world show that it is the natural order for living beings to assist and aid each other, rather than compete with each other. He extended his conclusions about fieldmice and other countryside beasts into an economic theory (which some have labelled as the roots of anarchism) advocating optimised and common-ownership methods of production – which, he said, would be so very effective that there would be no difficulty in providing enough to satisfy the needs of the whole of society. He eventually forecast that money would die out, since it would no longer be needed. (Kropotkin was remarkably non-proscriptive in this respect).
Like the best Anarcho-Socialists, Kropotkin came from the upper echelons of privilege – his father had been a Grand Prince, owning over 1000 serfs. Pyotr himself did away with the title he inherited.
A precursor of Wedgie Benn, perhaps? 🙂
Whilst admiring the zoology, he fought shy of Darwin’s theory that it was competition for scant resources that led to the Evolution of Species. He came from a gentler and more charming (and more practical) tradition that baulked at the dog-eat-dog philosophy so beloved of Samuel Smiles and his chums.
He has a rather charming station on the Moscow Metro named after him… a bit samey at plaform level, but the station building upstairs is a marvellous bit of 1930s architecture. It wasn’t originally supposed to be named after Kropotkin, though – it picked up his name much later, when it was finally admitted that the Palace Of The Soviets (the station’s name too) was an unbuildable fiasco, and cancelled.

Aug 4, 2016 8:47 PM
Reply to  reinertorheit

Yes, five year plans often go awry! Yet your allusion to Kropotkin’s Mutualism added much flavor and substance to the stew. Your reference
to the Moscow Metro was spot on! It seemed simiar to Dos Passos use of the camera’s eye. I offer the following as a jumping off point for further
inquiry :
it was only after Proudhon’s death that Marxism became a large movement. He did, however, criticize authoritarian socialists of his period. This included the state socialist Louis Blanc, of whom Proudhon said, “Let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications.” It was Proudhon’s book What is Property? that convinced the young Karl Marx that private property should be abolished.
In one of his first works, The Holy Family, Marx said, “Not only does Proudhon write in the interest of the proletarians, he is himself a proletarian, an ouvrier. His work is a scientific manifesto of the French proletariat.” Marx, however, disagreed with Proudhon’s anarchism and later published vicious criticisms of Proudhon. Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy as a refutation of Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty.
In their letters Proudhon expressed disagreement with Marx’s views on revolution: “I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction”[44]
An adroit aside:
Hey fella, We less than exceptional “Murricans” have a lot to learn
even when standing on the sturdy shoulders of others!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
And fade to musical sojourn

Pura Vida,

Aug 3, 2016 11:33 PM

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