Competitive Advantage: Can we self-organize our way back?

In a well-publicized recent report, the World Economic Forum had the United States slipping to fifth place in competitiveness.  You can read about the report at

The article notes the slip is in part due to “declining faith in US government..”  We are still far ahead of China, India, and Brazil – in these particular competitiveness indicators.  But we clearly lag behind other nations.  One of the keys in this is a point I first heard raised by Lester Thurow many years ago now.  In his book “Head to Head” he urged the US to do what every other democratic industrial nation had done at the time- have a clear and well-coordinated policy for job training and apprenticeship, among industry, education, and government.  Instead, we now have what HBR blogger (and acerbic wit) Umair Haque calls a “ponziconomy” with little more than low-wage “McJobs” to offer people.  
Competitive advantage is a concept from Economics 101.  If you can not make or do things “better, faster, cheaper” than the other guys, they will get the business, all other things being equal.  We lost manufacturing jobs in part because of cheaper labor overseas, and cheap oil to bring the foreign-made stuff back here.  One day, when labor costs more over there, and oil costs more, we may regain the advantage.  But will we have the skilled workers to “carpe the diem?”
There are tremendous implications in this for government at all levels in the US.  Without competitiveness, our capital flows out not in.  Profits/surplus- the “extra wealth” that we use to fuel the engines of progress through education, innovation, research, etc., go away.  The loss of profits means less revenue for the government, who has been not only a significant employer, but an “investor of last resort” in so many key ways.
We simply must mobilize and deploy the vast cash reserves that are still present in our economy, in ways that will grow and sustain us into the future.  This need not mean “bigger government” or massive tax hikes on corporate profits.  There ARE alternatives.  Howard Schultz of Starbucks has proposed that the leaders of major corporations pledge to create new jobs.  A joint industry-education-government council could craft a fairly simple framework for skills training, and project selection, that would have the bare minimum in oversight, and be essentially self-organizing and self-managed by the corporations themselves.  Such a system could radically change the role of government, and also support a shift in the underlying values of the society, towards a higher global competitiveness.
This entry was posted in Change, Complexity, Continuous Process Improvement, Education, Government Improvement, Innovation, Social Responsibility. Bookmark the permalink.

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