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Competitiveness and its predecessors - a 500-year cross-national perspective

Reinert, Erik S. (1994): Competitiveness and its predecessors - a 500-year cross-national perspective. Published in: STEP report No. 3 (1994)


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Even a casual observer of the practice and science of management will not fail to notice how a continuous flow of new concepts are born, become fashionable, and then disappear from management jargon. A recent article in Financial Times (1, p. 10) suggests the term ’corporate grafitti’ - or ’management grafitti’ - to describe the unthinking use of buzz-words. Management language is 'opaque, ugly, and clichéridden', FT claims. 'Management grafitti' is intended as the catch-phrase to end all catch-phrases.

In this paper I shall argue that, although often misused and mostly ill-defined, the term competitiveness properly used does describe an important feature in the world economy. This concept scratches the surface of important issues which are central for understanding the distribution of wealth, both nationally and globally. In spite of its fairly recent appearance on the scene, the term competitiveness in my view addresses issues which have been central in public policy at least during the last 500 years, albeit under different headings. I shall also argue that competitiveness - properly used - exposes important weaknesses in the neo-classical economic paradigm. This could then account for the vehemence with which some mainstream economists attack the use of the term.

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