News & Politics
The U.S.'s Gold Medal of Competitiveness
April 25, 2000
The Olympic flame less than a month away from arriving in Los Angeles to commence its cross-country torch relay to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games. But already the United States is busy wracking up gold medals against our international competitors.Recently, a global survey was released that reports that world business leaders give the gold medal to the U.S. economy as the most competitive in the world among industrialized nations. What business leaders mean when they say most competitive is this: low wages, few worker benefits, and deregulation."A lot of people are looking at the United States as a new El Dorado for competitiveness," said Stephen Garelli, director of the World Competitiveness Report conducted annually by the International Institute for Management Development.Ranked just behind the U.S. are Singapore and Japan. Other countries in the top ten include Malaysia and Hong Kong. Now there's something for American workers to crow about: our economy is more competitive than Malaysia and Singapore.It used to be that American workers had something else to boast about: being the highest paid work force in the world. But not anymore. In a free-trading world turned upside down, now we get the gold medal for just the opposite.According to the 1994 Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing labor costs in the U.S. averaged $17.10, while German labor costs were 60 percent higher ($27.31 per hour) and the Japanese were 25 percent higher ($21.42). Those poor wretched German and Japanese workers! If only they could make wages like their American counterparts, their country too could win the Gold Medal of Competitiveness.The hapless Germans have also been so foolish as to reduce their work week by two hours to an average of 30.6 hours per month (with no reduction in pay). But the competitive American workers have seen our average work week increase from 38.3 to 39.5 hours. Americans put in more working hours during an average year (1847) than workers in Britain (1622 hours), France (1619), Sweden (1569) and Germany (1419). American workers also have the least number of paid holidays and vacation, an average of 23 days per year compared to Japan (25 days), Britain (31), France (35), Sweden (38), Italy (40.5) and Germany (42).In other words, Americans win the gold for working longer hours for less pay. Now that's something to brag about!And that's not all. The United States also has the Olympic distinction of being Number One in widening the income gap between rich and poor. In no other country do CEOs of corporations make 150 times the income of workers on the shop floor. What's more, though world business leaders ranked the United States first in global competitiveness, American business leaders ranked the U.S. as only seventh. American business leaders apparently don't know how good they've got it, or else they're never satisfied. Perhaps they won't be satisfied until they've wrung more blood, sweat and tears out of the American worker.These are confusing times. What's all the more odd is that it takes the likes of Pat Buchanan to make sense of these things for American workers. When reports like the World Competitiveness Report are issued, American workers have to ask: is the glass half empty or half full? Is it worth it to win the Gold Medal for this Olympic event?