For competition and cooperation

In: Uncategorized

13 Jan 2008

Benjamin Barber, a professor at the University of Maryland, rails against competition in an article in the Autumn 2007 edition of the Wilson Quarterly. In his view:

“Competition skews the balance, and threatens real democracy. More fundamentally, it fails to comprehend freedom’s true character. In the human balance, given that we are creatures of nature and artifice, of both rivalry and love, we normally live in parallel, mutually intersecting worlds of competition and cooperation, if not quite as grimly or definitively as Ruskin imagined. Competition may not be the law of death, but as the law of the marketplace and the radically individualistic people who populate it, it distorts and unhinges our common lives and slights the necessary role of cooperation and community in securing liberty. In construing ourselves exclusively as economic ¬beings—¬what the old philosophers used to call homo economicus—we account for ourselves as producers and consumers but not as neighbors and citizens. We shortchange real liberty.”

There is plenty wrong with his argument. Most fundamentally it is wrong to counter-pose competition and cooperation. For example, the strongest cooperation can come about as a result of competition. Genuine politics depends on a vigorous battle of ideas between competing sides. But such competition can also generate strong solidarity among those involved in the debate.

It is also worth noting that Barber links competition closely to the law of the marketplace. But things are not so simple. To the extent that the market has brought increased productivity it has brought enormous benefits to humanity. At the same time the current market is obsessed with ways for firms to curb competition. For example, corporate social responsibility can be seen as a way of restricting competition.

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