Thursday, April 24, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

"internal equity" vs. "external competitiveness"

I don't agree with a lot of Larry Summers' economics, but he is often quite an insightful thinker on globalization. Here the former Treasury Secretary and Harvard president is talking to David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal about American universities. But his insight can be applied to the U.S. economy as a whole.

"American universities right now are pre-eminent," says Lawrence Summers, who was deposed as Harvard's president in 2006. "They have enormous advantages in wealth, in the attractiveness of the U.S. as a place to study and teach, in their demonstrated excellence. The threat to the top universities is not imminent. But Oxford and Cambridge didn't perceive the threat as imminent. The combination of Britain's losing relative economic ground and deep complacency, lack of major investment in science and technology and governance modes that favored internal equity over external competitiveness caused them to lose their position over two generations." (my emphasis)

As we know from experience, external competitiveness is usually the key to higher levels of wealth all-around and over time mostly transcends the "internal" distributional concerns. As Summers nicely points out, "equity" is a euphemism for stagnation and decline.

UPDATE: By complete coincidence, I came across this brief Forbes article on the influence of college professors on the "equity" versus "efficiency" debate.

posted by Bret Swanson @ 9:56 AM | Global Innovation