The race to the bottom is a socio-economic phrase to describe government deregulation of the business environment, or reduction in tax rates, in order to attract or retain economic activity in their jurisdictions. An outcome of globalization and free trade, it may occur when competition increases between geographic areas over a particular sector of trade and production. The effect and intent of these actions is to lower labor rates, cost of business, or other factors, and thus the metaphor where the bottom is the lowest wage that can be paid.
History and usage
The concept of a regulatory "race to the bottom" emerged in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when there was charter competition among states to attract corporations to base in their jurisdiction. Some, such as Justice Louis Brandeis, described the concept as the "race to the bottom" and others, as the "race to efficiency". In the late 19th century, joint-stock company control was being liberalised in Europe, where countries were engaged in competitive liberal legislation to allow local companies to compete. This liberalization reached Spain in 1869, Germany in 1870, Belgium in 1873, and Italy in 1883. In 1890, New Jersey enacted a liberal corporation charter, which charged low fees for company registration and lower franchise taxes than other states. Delaware attempted to copy the law to attract companies to its own state. This competition ended when Governor Woodrow Wilson tightened New Jersey's laws through a series of seven statutes. In academic literature, the phenomenon of regulatory competition reducing standards overall was argued for by A.A. Berle and G.C. Means in The Modern Corporation and Private Property. The concept received formal recognition by the US Supreme Court in a decision of Justice Louis Brandeis in the 1933 case Ligget Co. v. Lee. Brandeis's "race to the bottom" metaphor was updated in 1974 by William Cary, in an article in the Yale Law Journal, "Federalism and Corporate Law: Reflections Upon Delaware," in which Cary argued for the imposition of national standards for corporate governance. Sanford F. Schram explained in 2000 that the term "race to the bottom": The term has been used to describe a similar type of competition between corporations. In 2003, in response to reports that British supermarkets had cut the price of bananas, and by implication had squeezed revenues of banana-growing developing nations, Alistair Smith, international co-coordinator of Banana Link, said "The British supermarkets are leading a race to the bottom. Jobs are being lost and producers are having to pay less attention to social and environmental agreements." Another example is the cruise industry, which registers its ship with flags of convenience, evading wage requirements and other expenses required by developed countries, thus providing the business model for the industry. The term has also been used in the context of a trend for some European states to seize refugees' assets. International Political Economy scholars Daniel Drezner has described the "race to the bottom" as a myth. He argues that the thesis incorrectly assumes that states exclusively responds to the preferences of capital, state regulations are sufficiently costly for producers that they would be willing to re-locate elsewhere, and no state has an economy large enough to give it a bargaining power advantage over global capital.
The race to the bottom has been a tactic widely used among states within the United States of America. The race to the bottom in environmental policy involves both scaling back policies already in place and passing new policies that encourage less environmentally friendly behavior. Some states use this as an economic development strategy, especially in times of financial hardship. For example, in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker decreased state environmental staff's capacity in order to accelerate the approval time for a proposed development. Pursuing a race to the bottom philosophy in environmental politics allows states to foster economic growth, but has great consequences for the environment of that state. Conversely, some states have begun to pursue a race to the top strategy, which stresses innovative environmental policies at the state level, with the hopes that these policies will later be adopted by other states. When a state pursues either a race to the bottom or a race to the top strategy, it speaks to its overall environmental agenda.