"The competitive metaphor -- the image of countries competing with each other in world markets in the same way that corporations do -- derives much of its attractiveness from its seeming comprehensibility. Tell a group of businessmen that a country is like a corporation writ large, and you give them the comfort of feeling that they already understand the basics. Try to tell them about economic concepts like comparative advantage, and you are asking them to learn something new. It should not be surprising if many prefer a doctrine that offers the gain of apparent sophistication without the pain of hard thinking. The rhetoric of competitiveness has become so wide-spread, however, for three deeper reasons.
First, competitive images are exciting, and thrills sell tickets. The subtitle of Lester Thurow's huge best-seller, Head to Head, is "The Coming Economic Battle among Japan, Europe, and America"; the jacket proclaims that "the decisive war of the century has begun . . . and America may already have decided to lose." Suppose that the subtitle had described the real situation: "The coming struggle in which each big economy will succeed or fail based on its own efforts, pretty much independently of how well the others do." Would Thurow have sold a tenth as many books?
Second, the idea that U.S. economic difficulties hinge crucially on our failures in international competition somewhat paradoxically makes those difficulties seem easier to solve. The productivity of the average American worker is determined by a complex array of factors, most of them unreachable by any likely government policy. So if you accept the reality that our "competitive" problem is really a domestic productivity problem pure and simple, you are unlikely to be optimistic about any dramatic turnaround. But if you can convince yourself that the problem is really one of failures in international competition that -- imports are pushing workers out of high-wage jobs, or subsidized foreign competition is driving the United States out of the high value-added sectors -- then the answers to economic malaise may seem to you to involve simple things like subsidizing high technology and being tough on Japan.
Finally, many of the world's leaders have found the competitive metaphor extremely useful as a political device. The rhetoric of competitiveness turns out to provide a good way either to justify hard choices or to avoid them.
...Thinking and speaking in terms of competitiveness poses three real dangers. First, it could result in the wasteful spending of government money supposedly to enhance U.S. competitiveness. Second, it could lead to protectionism and trade wars. Finally, and most important, it could result in bad public policy on a spectrum of important issues.
...Perhaps the most serious risk from the obsession with competitiveness, however, is its subtle indirect effect on the quality of economic discussion and policymaking. If top government officials are strongly committed to a particular economic doctrine, their commitment inevitably sets the tone for policy-making on all issues, even those which may seem to have nothing to do with that doctrine. And if an economic doctrine is flatly, completely and demonstrably wrong, the insistence that discussion adhere to that doctrine inevitably blurs the focus and diminishes the quality of policy discussion across a broad range of issues, including some that are very far from trade policy per se."
Se, por outro lado, o significado de competitividade for produtividade, e a questão toda for apenas a escolha inapropriada de palavras, então o problema se resume em criar políticas públicas para aumentar a produtividade total dos fatores (PTF), como bem aponta Stephen Williamson, ao invés de subsidiar alguns empresários exportadores.
Não é desnecessário mencionar que esta discussão é importante para o Brasil também, para que possamos ter um foco correto na elaboração de políticas públicas.