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Europe, Uncategorized

Competitiveness, the neoliberal variant of the myth of Sisyphus


By Bernard Cassen

This fall, in France and probably in other countries, the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, will give rise to much editorial output. This will affirm, in particular, the continued relevance of the questioning throughout all his work, and which is summarized in the title of his book published in 1942: The Myth of Sisyphus. an essay on the absurd.

If you read or reread this text today, but through the prism of an environment where decision makers are much more fond of financial reports than philosophical works, one cannot help but make a comparison with the myths – in a way, parallel to that of Sisyphus – upon which the neoliberal system is ideologically based. The most common myths in the public debate are called “market” , “growth” and “competitiveness”. The absurdity of the invocation of the latter concept, if we confine ourselves here to mention just this one, is in fact no different than the efforts of the hero of Greek mythology condemned for eternity by the gods to roll an immense boulder up a mountain only to watch it, just before the peak, tumble back down into the valley.

The discourse on competitiveness, presented in Berlin and Brussels as the solution to the crisis for almost all countries of the European Union (EU), is based on an intellectual mystification : a society is not competitive in itself, it is (or not) with respect to another. In other words, competitiveness is not about reaching a certain level of excellence, but to maintain or win it by all means of gaining an edge over its competitors. This is the difference between the absolute and the relative. By definition, societies cannot all simultaneously be competitive with all others.

This is not to advocate the end of any competition, but to demand that it is regulated according to the twin goals of social justice and environmental needs, and to do so at the national, European and global level. The tools – monetary policy, taxation, altruistic protectionism, democratisation of political institutions , etc. – are not in short supply. It is sufficient to pick them up and use them. Instead the EU has adopted a range of measures euphemistically dubbed “structural reforms” which are of a radically different inspiration: a race between members states of wage deflation through the dismantling of social protection and labour law, and the impoverishment of public services offered up for privatisation.

A myth must be embodied, and it is the role of the Germany, the “sick man of Europe” fifteen years ago, that would become, thanks to Hartz [labour reforms], the champion of the competition. And even if this performance is based on the lack of a minimum wage, the proliferation of “mini -jobs” without health insurance or pension rights, and eight million working poor.

It is the two variants of this model – Ireland and Latvia – that the European Commissioner Olli Rehn has proposed to Spain, asking the Rajoy government to cut all wages by 10%. He was careful to note that in these two countries, “structural reforms” led to a massive destruction of full-time jobs: 20 % in Latvia, third in Ireland. The important thing is to ensure the survival of the myth …

Translation by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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