Posts Tagged ‘Competition’


September 26, 2015

When I was a schoolboy, I was taught that the free enterprise system was best because it forced corporations to compete to see which can best satisfy the needs and desires of we the people.

School children today are taught that they need to learn to compete to see which can best satisfy the needs and desires of the owners of corporations.

Competition: its benefits and its pitfalls

January 7, 2014

four-arenas-competition1Science fiction writer David Brin wrote recently society works best when there is competition—competition in the marketplace to make the best products at the lowest price, competition in elections to see which politician can best serve the aims of the public, competition between scientists to make new discoveries and argue for new theories, and competition between lawyers to make sure all sides of a case get a fair hearing.

That is a great ideal.  The problem is to make it work as intended.

A society such as he describes is something new in history.  Most complex civilizations in history were organized from the top down—with government monopolies, hereditary monarchs, religion (or political) dogma and no such thing as impartial law.

Jonathan Rauch in his 1992 book, The Outnation: A Search for the Soul of Modern Japan, noted the contrast between the USA and hierarchical Japan:

It was [John] Locke, followed by Adam Smith and others, who first built the theory of liberal social mechanisms – public processes, like voting or trading or performing experiments, in which no one gets special personal authority (no kings, no dictators, no high priests or oracles) and no one in particular gets to control the outcome.  In the liberal scheme of things, no matter who you are, your vote is just a vote, your dollar is just a dollar, and your experiment had better work when anyone else tries it.  Moreover, there is no last election, last trade, or last hypothesis.  America is John Locke’s country.

The problem is how to create the conditions in which competition works for the benefit of society.  As Brin noted, the kind of competition he described can take place only within a legal governmental framework that gives protection against fraud and force.  To say that rules and regulations are incompatible with the free market is the same as saying that referees are incompatible with basketball.

Rules and regulations do not work unless a majority are willing to obey them.  Unenforceable laws are not merely useless, they are harmful.   Laws are no substitute for a basic ethic of honesty and fair play.


Drugs and the struggle for success

May 18, 2010

A friend of mine who teaches in college says that students nowadays take memory-enhancing drugs so they’ll do better on exams. They don’t admit it themselves, but they all say they know others who do.

And what, those students may ask, is wrong with that?  How is it different from drinking coffee to stay alert?  If people can make themselves smarter, stronger, less depressed or more focused by taking a drug, isn’t this a good thing?

Well, it depends.  If everybody used these drugs, would it be of benefit to all? Would everybody be able to function on a higher level? Or are these drugs part of a zero-sum game, whose only purpose is to gain an advantage over those who don’t use drugs? No chemical substances that has any biological effect at all is entirely without risk. What do we know about the side effects?

It is like plastic surgery.  No reasonable person would object to plastic surgery for someone who was disfigured.  But what about a reasonably attractive person who wants to become even more attractive? Suppose everybody did this.  Would the percentage of people regarded as attractive increase? Or would there merely be a raising of the bar for the standard of beauty?

Competition is a means to an end, not a good in itself.  Competition is good when it encourages people to strive for excellence. It is not good when it encourages people to do things that are harmful to themselves or others just to win.

Whatever you or I answer, one segment of society will have no qualms about performance-enhancing drugs.  That is the military.  If you think it is all right to order people to do things that put them at high risk of being killed, you can’t reasonably object to giving them drugs to reduce that risk.  And where the military goes today, the rest of society goes tomorrow.