Sunday, September 05, 2004

Cooperation and Competition

Liberals tend to oppose cooperation to competition, and vice versa, as if they excluded each other. ‘We need more cooperation and less competition.’ One frequently hears that from liberals. But competition is a form of cooperation. As such, it cannot be opposed to cooperation. One cannot oppose a species to its genus.

Consider competitive games and sports. The chess player aims to beat his opponent, and he expects his opponent to share this aim: No serious player enjoys beating someone who is not doing his best. But the competition is predicated upon cooperation. There are the rules of the game and the various protocols governing behavior at the board. These are agreed upon and respected by the players and they form the cooperative context in which the competition unfolds.

Is there any competitive game or sport for which this does not hold? At the Boston Marathon one year, a meshuggeneh lady by the name of Rosie Ruiz jumped into the race ahead of the leaders and before the finish line. She seemed to many to have won the race. But she was soon disqualified. She wasn’t competing because she wasn’t cooperating. Cooperation is a necessary condition of competition.

In the business world, competition is fierce indeed. But even here it presupposes cooperation. Fed Ex aims to cut into UPS’s business – but not by assassinating their drivers. If Fed Ex did this, it would be out of business. It would lose favor with the public, and the police and regulatory agencies would be on its case. The refusal to cooperate would make it uncompetitive. ‘Cut throat’ competition does not pay in the long run and makes the ‘cut throat’ uncompetitive.

Is war a counterexample to my thesis? Suppose two warring factions are ‘competing’ for Lebensraum in a no-holds-barred manner. If this counts as a case of competition, then this may be a counterexample to my thesis. But it is not that clear that the Nazis, say, were competing with the Poles for Lebensraum. This needs further thought. Of course, if the counterexample is judged to be genuine, I can simply restrict my thesis to forms of competition short of all-out annihilatory war.

Competition, then, contrary to liberal dogma, is not opposed to cooperation. Moreover, competition is good in that it breeds excellence, a point unappreciated, or insufficiently appreciated, by liberals. This marvelous technology we bloggers use every day – how do our liberal friends think it arose? Do they have any idea why it is so inexpensive?