Competition is good for us, part 1

Something that can be hard to accept with an open society is that it always contains competition. This comes as a direct result of the openness. Since everybody can thread the path forward that they deem best, instead of being forced from the top by people who have little clue, this inevitably means that several groups of people will work on the same thing separately, at the same time. This lack of cooperation might start because they don’t know of each other, or because they don’t like each other, or because one group things it can do it better than the other. Sometimes groups merge, sometimes they split.

But the end effect of this is that the groups end up competing. Sometimes it’s for fun, sometimes for glory and quite often it’s for money. After all, we need to produce to survive. This competition is often seen as something bad. First of all it can seem wasteful that two groups are working on doing the same thing. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if they cooperated? It sure seems so. Secondly quite often something happens that make one group actually win the competition. In friendly competitions this seems OK, but when you compete for money, it often means some people will lose their incomes. And that is definitely not good.

So shouldn’t we try to avoid competition, at least about money? The answer is no.

When two groups compete, they never do exactly the same thing. There is always a difference. Which one is best? Well, that decision is then with the people who use it. We get to choose from various options, and decide which one is best for us. We choose for ourselves without necessarily forcing that decision on others. It’s the sort of ultimate democracy that the open society is full of.

This ability to choose is beneficial for society in various ways. In the most basic and boring way, it’s good economically. Because one of the most common ways that the produce differs is in price. So when products are similar, we tend to go for the cheapest one. This lowers prices, and lower prices makes people richer, because they get money over to buy other things.

But it’s not just the price that is important, but also quality. Do we want cheap and cheerful or expensive and exquisite? Well, often we want both, but at different times. If you are a bit hungry you might snatch up a chocolate bar and gobble it down, but when you have a nice relaxing evening with your significant other you might prefer a box of luscious expensive chocolates. And when we want cheap, we want as cheap as possible. So when buying gas for the car, we go for price. And when we go for quality, we want the best we can afford. None of these choices are available unless we have many producers competing with different products at different prices and different qualities. If we don’t have competition, you have to choose the single producer there is, no matter what the quality and price is. And that provides very little need for the producer to make something that is cheap or good, and we tend to end up with expensive and bad.

But competition is not only good for price and quality, which is what most people tend to focus on. We often forget something important when it comes to competition, and that is that it generates diversity. This can be a bit surprising. After all, if you look around todays highly competitive western world, you today mostly see McDonald’s and Starbuck’s, Hollywood blockbusters and books about wizards and witches. It might not look very diverse at first glance. But if you look a bit closer, you’ll between the big chains see loads of small restaurants run by people who love food. And these comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. There is Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Australian, South African, Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian, and even Swedish restaurants to go to. You can go for pizzas in small mostly take-away shops with plastic seats, or you can go to expensive ecological Italian gourmet pizzas in cozy atmospheres and subdues lighting. And although kids books (and movies) about magic is highly popular now, everyone wants on on the Harry Potter train, there is such an amazing abundance of fantastic and weird literature out there that it’s completely mind boggling. This vacation, the last five weeks, I’ve read thought-provoking science-fiction, and entertaining science fiction, some useless book about politics (complete crap, don’t read it), and a highly interesting book about politics. I’ve read a shallow but funny book about gods, and a deep and funny book about gods. I’ve read a thin and quick read about how people works, and am now currently reading a very heavy and slow read about how science works, and one or two more books. Notice how you probably haven’t read most of those books, in fact you probably haven’t even heard of them. Even though they all except three are well known enough to have their own Wikipedia pages. Competition creates diversity, and the result is that there today is more books out there that are important enough that you should read them, then is likely that you ever going to have time to read. Not all of the books above are blockbusters that made their authors rich, but some of them are.

In short: Competition is good. But, you say, what about those getting out-competed? The people loosing their jobs. I’ll tak about that in part 2. This post is already way too long. Sorry about the blabbering.


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    […] 2, 2008 · Filed under politics In part 1 I explained why competition is good for us because it makes things better, cheaper and more […]

  2. 2

    Dustin said,

    I like how you started to say competition is good for us but then you contridict it by saying it is bad for it crumbles society in a manner with loss of jobs and enthusiasm

  3. 4

    Aaron Kim said,

    i loved both your essays. they halped me so much! Thank you.

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