Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Princeton University
2022 to 2023
Fighting for Capitalism's Cutting Edge: The Postindustrial Crusade for Technological and Economic Competitiveness
From the 1970s to the early 1990s, America’s declining competitiveness became a ubiquitous concern. Stricken with a sense of national decline and concern about Japan’s economic rise, American business leaders and scientists had formulated a policy agenda around technological fixes and high federal R&D spending. Searching for a new political coalition, the Democrats rallied around this competitiveness agenda, bringing a hopeful message: with faith in high technology, Americans could be optimistic about the future. Ultimately, this widespread competitiveness concern shaped policy priorities, partisan coalitions, and economic thinking in the late 20th century. But as MIT economist Paul Krugman implored in 1994, “let’s start telling the truth. The obsession with competitiveness is both wrong and dangerous.” This dissertation traces the rise and fall of a surprising bipartisan consensus around competitiveness, the policy implications, and why by the early 1990s, Americans spoke increasingly of globalization instead of competitiveness.