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America's secret competitive advantage is a dirty secret

Sreedharan, Ranjan (2009): America's secret competitive advantage is a dirty secret.

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Abstract

The noted management guru Michael E Porter identifies seven unique competitive advantages for the U.S. economy to explain the country’s pre-eminence; they range from (among others) its environment for entrepreneurship, its institutions of higher learning, its technology and innovation machine, to its commitment to competition and free markets.

In this article, I argue that there is another critical competitive advantage exclusive to the U.S. that arises from its electoral system characterised by consistently low levels of voter turnout in national elections and with disproportionately large numbers of its poorest and least educated citizens not voting. I begin by looking at reasons why the poor in America vote in far lesser proportions than their numbers, and particularly, at the various formal and informal impediments that prevent voting by the poor. I then consider the impact this would have had on America’s economy and its competitiveness.

The core idea of this paper is that when an electoral process effectively filters out significant sections of the poor, the country would find it far easier to put in place (and sustain) sound free-market economic policies focussed on long term objectives with generous incentives for creation of wealth and with a tight leash on welfare and other entitlement programmes. I contend that America’s undeniably greater acceptance of the rigours of the free-market system is not (as is commonly believed) a product of a unique history or culture but, in truth, is closely tied to a discriminatory and exclusionary electoral system that has strong historical roots.

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