World Economic Forum: “Socialism Is Competitive”

OK, so they didn’t say that. It would be like The Economist conceding that the French economy, dirigisme and all, performs about the same (or better) as any other major European economy with the exception of Germany. However, I was struck that the WEF has published its annual “Global Competitiveness Report” where economic success is completely independent of the degree of Statism/welfarism. This is significant because the WEF is supposed to be the sort of ultracapitalist/neoliberal institution that leads assorted hippies, leftists and other “altermundializers” to organize counter-summits.

The report includes a ranking which features in its top-10 Switzerland, the United States of America and Singapore. Otherwise, the top-10 is dominated by the most Social-Democratic states in the world including Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The varieties and varying degrees of welfarism, Statism and egalitarianism in these countries are no contradiction to what the report defines as “competitiveness,” or “the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country.” The “six pillars” include: institutions, infrastructure, health, primary and higher education, the macroeconomic environment and market efficiency.

I don’t have much hope that even a capitalist authority like the WEF will be able to give the lie to the usual neoliberal suspects – The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, self-proclaimed conservatives generally – that there is no automatic trade-off between social democracy and economic success. No number of foreign counter-examples ever really registers.

Rather, if the economy is to prosper, taxes (preferably on rich people) must be lowered, education and health (and everything else) must be privatized, welfare and pensions must be cut and, more generally, even things quite essential to daily life should only go to those defined as “deserving” (e.g. rationed by wealth). These ideas, however simple, resonate and formed the basis of the electoral success of Nicolas Sarkozy and a number of Nativist/anti-tax/independence movements in Europe including Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and Italy’s Lega Nord. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it..

Fine print: I am generally skeptical of these crude rankings, especially when it involves reducing to a single variable something as complex/nebulous as “Freedom,” a university’s goodness or indeed “competitiveness”.  While they give you some information, it is often merely a matter of giving an aura of authoritativeness to pseudo-scientific measurements. Sometimes they are politically driven.

Very fine print: Also, the report was apparently elaborated by a Spanish man in fluorescent green suit, whom I think we can all agree is obviously untrustworthy.

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