Obsession with “competitiveness” lives on

Adam Posen’s FT op-ed earlier this month demonstrates the continued relevance of Pop Internationalism, which I recommended in my last post. Posen writes:

A dozen years ago Paul Krugman, the US economist, famously called competitiveness “a dangerous obsession” among US policymakers. In fact, in every decade, in all advanced economies, a focus on export competitiveness tends to erode living standards and distracts policymakers from a more beneficial emphasis on productivity…

A focus on export competitiveness usually leads to actively harmful policies, beyond simply wasted resources and rhetoric. If exports are the public criterion of economic success, policymakers can meet that goal only by self-destructive means: depreciating a country’s currency, thus eroding the purchasing power and the accumulated wealth of citizens; depressing wages in export sectors, either directly or through relative deflation vis-à-vis trading partners, thus cutting real incomes and domestic demand; subsidizing or protecting exporting companies, thus distorting investment decisions and locking in old technologies and businesses at the expense of new entrants; or promoting national champions, thus increasing both wasteful public spending and the costs to domestic households and businesses.