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COMPETITION IS WAR, AND "WAR IS HELL"
Academic definitions do not help much toward ascertaining what competition really is.
One says it is the "aspiration of two or more persons to the same office, dignity, or other advantage," which is about as illuminating as to say it is a-word.
A little more specifically it is said to be, "the rivalry which exists between manufacturers, merchants, etc., whether concerning the quality of their products, their merchandise, etc., or concerning prices, with a view to sharing the profits of the same branch of commerce, industry, etc." 1
1A writer in the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica says: "Competition, in the sense in which the word is still used in many economic works, is merely a special case of the struggle for survival, and, from its limitation, does not go far toward explaining the actual working of modern institutions. To buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest; to secure cheapness by lowering the expenses of production; to adopt the less expensive rather than the more expensive method of obtaining a given result-these and other maxims are as old as human society. Competition, in the Darwinian sense, is characteristic, not only of modern industrial states, but of all living organisms; in the narrower sense of the 'higgling of the market,' as found on the Stock Exchange, in the markets of old towns, in medieval fairs and Oriental bazaars. In modern countries it takes myriads of forms, from the sweating of parasitic trades to the organization of scientific research. Economic motives, again, are as varied as the forms of competition and their development is coeval with that of human society.
"They have to be interpreted in every age in relation to the state of society, the other notions or ideals with which they are associated, the kind of action they inspire and the means through which they operate. Apparently the same economic notions have led in the same age and
A better definition is that it is "The effort of different individuals engaged in the same line of activity each to benefit himself, generally at the other's expense, by rendering increased service to outside parties.'
A German writer separates the struggle for existence into two divisions, (a) struggles for domination, and (b) struggles for annihilation. "The struggle between buyer and seller in a bargain is of the former sort; each tries to make the other serve him as fully as possible, but does not desire his annihilation. The struggle between different buyers, or between different sellers, is of the latter class; each is desiring to get rid of the other so far as he can. Competition, then, is the legalized form of the struggle for annihilation in modern life. Legalized because of its tendency to benefit an indefinite number of third parties, and thus become a means of collective economy of force and of general benefit to society." 2
Why is it so difficult to define competition? Why are the definitions suggested so vague in terms they include almost every motive that controls human effort?
in the same nation to monopoly and individual enterprise, protection and free trade, law and anarchy. In our own time they have inspired both the formation of trade combinations and attempts to break them up, hostility to all forms of state interference, and a belief in collectivism."
1"Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology," edited by James Mark Baldwin, Ph.D. The definition and article are by President A. T. Hadley, of Yale, who goes on to say: "Important as the term 'competition' is, there have been few attempts to define it." It is not taken up in Malthus' "Definitions." Mill lays down important propositions about its action, but seems to assume the fundamental meaning of the term as self-evident. Walker defines it by antithesis, as opposed to combination, custom, statement. Marshall says: "The strict meaning of competition seems to be the racing of one person against another with special reference to the bidding for the sale or purchase of anything."
'Article above referred to.
The trouble is we attribute too much to competition; it is either feared as an evil or worshipped as a fetish, it is held accountable for nearly everything that happens, not only in the industrial and commercial world, but in the development of society, of even life itself; it is a biological, a sociological, a philosophical, an economic, a political term, used indiscriminately in a thousand connections, meaning one thing here, another, and fundamentally different thing, there.
In short, competition is on a level and practically synonymous with terms such as "struggle," "contest,” “rivalry," hence its broadest definition can be no more specific than their definitions.
Everybody knows what a competition is, but no one can say off-hand what competition is; everybody knows what a struggle is, but few could give a definition of the term so comprehensive as to include every conceivable struggle.
That is the trouble with defining competition generally. It must be considered, not necessarily defined, in connection with each particular rivalry.
In its elements competition is:
3. An advantage over others.
But the same is true of "contest" and "rivalry." Yet everybody knows, or has the feeling, that competition has a meaning of its own, especially when used in connection with trade and commerce, and so it has, but it is a meaning that cannot be defined because it is not so much a term of specific significance as it is the appropriation by long usage of a particular word to a particular connection.
"Contest is the life of trade," or "Rivalry is the life of trade" would answer just as well and mean as much.
Biology has appropriated the word "struggle”—“strug
gle for existence"-"competition" for existence would have answered just as well.
The biologist may lay great stress upon the struggle for existence as a biological fact, he may even go so far as to elevate the fact to the dignity of a condition of progress, but he does not set up his "struggle" as a fetish to be protected by law, to be preserved and encouraged at all hazards, as political and economic writers insist their competition shall be fostered,
The humane philosopher accepts the "struggle for existence," but he accepts it reluctantly and regretfully; he seeks ways to modify it, he gladly looks to human sympathies and human coöperation to alleviate, if not completely nullify, the harsh law.
In sharp contrast, the old-school economist-followed by legislatures and courts-magnifies his competition to the proportions of a god, a god like unto those savage idols that demand the blood of human sacrifices, of women and little children.
The cry that competition must be preserved, must not be curtailed, must not be suppressed, is a senseless cry; in and of itself it has no more meaning than a cry that "struggle must be preserved," "rivalry must not be suppressed."
Some competitions, like some struggles, should be rigidly suppressed by law, others by custom, others by voluntary coöperation. Per contra, there are many forms of competition that are so beneficial they should be neither suppressed nor curtailed.
It all depends upon the particular competition, the particular form of rivalry.
If the average man were asked the following questions
he would probably make the following replies-each con
taining a broad qualification:
"Do you believe in fighting?"
"Why no-but there are times-
"It all depends upon what they are."
"Of course, when it is
"Do you believe in competition?"
"Generally speaking, yes, but, hold on, what sort of competition do you mean?"
The man who says he believes in competition ninetynine times out of a hundred has in mind the rivalry of those who are trying to sell him goods-he thinks that is a good thing.
The man who says he does not believe in competition has quite another sort of competition in mind and ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is his own rivalry with others in the same business to sell goods-he would very much like to modify or suppress that competition.
One does not have to go far afield for illustrations of the results of competition in the world of labor, trade, and industry to prove that, so far from being a good thing— much less a sacred thing—it is as disastrous to the material advancement of the community as war, and disastrous in very much the same manner-in appalling waste of time, effort, money, and life, for competition is war, and "war is hell," as General Sherman said.
The thoroughgoing evolutionist, the hero-worshipper, the believer in the superman, will argue that war has made man what he is and reason to the conclusion that humanity must be left free to "fight it out."
To that argument and that conclusion there is no adequate answer, since no man can say what the world would be to-day if there had been no wars, no struggles, no fierce