Skip to content

Vive la compétition !

March 24, 2012

ImageFacing a difficult re-election campaign, French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently threatened to pull France out of a 27-year-old open borders agreement between nations in the Schengen Area unless the European Union tightens restrictions on immigration. At the same time, he declared, “I want a Europe that protects its citizens. I no longer want this savage competition,” advocating a “Buy French” law under which government spending would favor domestic industries. In doing this, Sarkozy is basically reviving old-school mercantilism, which says France can improve its economic position by paying more money at home for goods that could be produced much more cheaply abroad.

Although this is not the first time a politician has resorted to such tactics to win votes, protectionism has been out of fashion in the last few decades among neoliberal European leaders, who have generally accepted the arguments in favor of increased trade and globalization. Judging by Sarkozy’s surge in the polls since the speech, however, it seems like voters may no longer want open borders and free markets in France, where populist stirrings are trumping the conventional economist’s view.
French voters are not the only ones to flinch at the term. The word “competition,” like its cousin “capitalism,” often evokes an image of the cutthroat industrialists squeezing every cent of surplus value out of their poor laborers. However, in reality, competition manifests itself in all political and economic systems, whether they are capitalistic, collectivist, or a hybrid of the two. Even if Sarkozy were to succeed at reducing competition from foreign markets in certain industries, this would only lead to fiercer competition for French people in other areas of life. Taxpayers, for example, would have to compete more intensely for a smaller pool of resources if they were paying more for the same services from the government.

An even starker example is provided by the Soviet Union, where an attempt to completely abolish private enterprise resulted in a treacherous competition for favors from the nomenklatura, a class of politically-connected administrators who de facto controlled the means of production. For regular citizens, refusing to participate in the battle over administrative clout sometimes meant starvation, while offering a bribe to the wrong bureaucrat carried the possibility of harsh punishment.

The human inclination to out-compete strangers and provide for one’s self and close relatives is deeply ingrained. Aggressive competition is hardly a result of increased trade and specialization, as Sarkozy seems to suggest, but rather of our biology. Accordingly, modern humans must harness our competitive primal instincts by defining the “rules of the game” in a way that produces the greatest benefit. Just like in a soccer tournament, rules and referees encourage healthy competition and entertainment while minimizing chaos and player injury. Sarkozy paid lip service to this point during the speech, claiming that he supports “fair competition” (concurrence loyale) but will not tolerate vaguely defined “unfair competition” (concurrence déloyale), referring to policies in other countries that encourage artificially cheap exports. Donald Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek artfully summarized the logic behind an escalating trade war when he gave the economist’s translation of a threat by President Obama directed at China: “If you don’t stop abusively taxing your citizens in order to grant unjust privileges to your favorite industries, we will more-abusively tax our citizens in order to grant unjust privileges to our favorite industries.”

Ironically, Sarkozy’s counter-productive proposals are a result of one of the most savage competitions of all: politics.

Existing institutions are adept at channeling competitive forces in recreational activities like sports, and are variably successful in different markets around the world. While democracy and other checks and balances on power have reduced the risk of a future Hitler or Stalin, no institution has yet managed to harness people’s competitive instincts to produce truly beneficial outcomes at the governmental level. Advocates of competitive government therefore need to clearly and concisely convey the rules (or meta-rules) that enable the competitive process to produce the best policies, free of savagery. Since most people won’t tolerate savagery from their government if they have other options, a simple framework might begin with, “Let people leave.” Unfortunately, the incentives currently embedded in our political institutions are swaying Europe in the opposite direction, towards an increasingly closed society.

Advertisements
8 Comments
  1. Erik permalink
    March 24, 2012 7:36 pm

    My point of view is that this *is* competition and choice. If you want to live in a country with open borders, and Frenchmen want to live in a country with closed borders, let them. “Let people leave” is a red herring – “Let people enter” is what you should be crying when Sarkozy wants tighter immigration laws. But there’s a huge asymmetry between those.

    • chdeist permalink
      March 27, 2012 6:41 pm

      Erik, that’s a fair point, but it’s the trend towards restricted movement that is disturbing. If France passes tighter immigration laws, people in other countries have one less option; if other countries follow suit, the “pressure valve” of having many possible countries to emigrate to will slowly shut off, and government will get worse as it becomes increasingly unresponsive to its citizens’ desires.

  2. Vanmind permalink
    March 26, 2012 7:25 pm

    I live in the Potemkin mirage known formerly as Vancouver. A few years ago I visited a government-mandated “official center” for business startups (i.e. a place that exists because government has pretty much outlawed any VC-style competition), wherein a filthy Marxian reprobate actually had the nerve to suggest that their mission & duty was to discourage market-based competition. I swallowed hard to keep down the bile, and walked out.

  3. July 21, 2014 3:49 am

    Make sure you know how long it requires to recover from a
    plastic surgery process ahead of agreeing to it.
    Calvert states, it requires a great deal of planning and preparation, as well as a lengthy recovery time (a three to five
    week hospital stay, with about six weeks of home rest prior to
    returning to work). With an type of plastic surgery, there
    will be a recovery process.

  4. July 26, 2014 7:00 am

    These significant changes give an opening to a market of specialists when it
    comes to tax preparation, auditing and bookkeeping.
    All this in 1494 and this entire still found on your modern accounting
    balance sheet. The online offering will cost you $99 to setup up with monthly fees.

  5. July 27, 2014 3:37 am

    However, this is not to say that they are without risk and the
    proper lotions as well as equipment are essential in order to lower the risks involved.
    Look for alternative means of tanning or treat yourself to a massage or pedicure
    to compensate for the stress-relief you may normally
    feel when using a tanning bed. When it comes to getting the perfect (and safe) tan in a
    flash we run to our bronzing savor, Jimmy Coco. You have probably heard it before, but I will say it again, tanning beds and
    the sun produce UV radiation that can be extremely harmful
    to your skin. A lot of individuals are going to quote
    that beauty and looks aren’t everything, but modern society
    has become incredibly vain. I love my new all over brown glow that I can have anytime I want without having to go to the salon. After all
    it is always better to be safe rather than sorry especially when you consider that the DHA will span the whole of your body and this means the allergic reaction will be quite large and not localised.
    Remember, the dry skin is one of the greatest enemies of the successful tanning.
    Searching online is the best way to find the perfect product without
    spending a fortune. I’ve gotten you started with an A
    through Z list of tips you should remember.

  6. July 31, 2014 3:16 am

    Women were seen wearing them everywhere, from the mall,
    to the salon, to restaurants. This sort of doll is offered in every single doll shops
    and you may attempt to collect them and make it as your
    favored collection. I feel big, loose-fitting separates can be
    worn by both slim and slightly overweight women.

  7. August 19, 2014 10:52 pm

    ” He had been admitted to the ER due to a heart attack. Let these mistakes be your motivation for enhancing your body further. The treatment comes in both drops and injections, which are given by a doctor.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: