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THE NEW COMPETITION
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
"Competition is the life of trade."
One proposition is as true as the other according to the point of view of him who utters it.
To the man who has downed his competitor competition is the life of trade; to the competitor who is downed competition is death.
Again, to the purchaser who buys bargains from merchants who in their jealous rivalry sell below cost, competition is the life of trade; to the merchants, one or more of whom must go to the wall, competition is fatal.
To the public who buy for cost or less than cost when rivalry is fierce, competition may seem a good thing, but when the rivalry results in disaster, and later prices go up to a point sufficient to make good the losses of the survivors, with a profit added, competition is wasteful and costly.
Nothing is more certain than that the community, the country as a whole, bears all the cost and all the losses of wasteful competition; whether it reaps the profits is another question.
The profits may be spent elsewhere, the losses-the waste of time, of energy, of money, in unsuccessful efforts to get trade, to establish a business, to build up an industry -cannot be shifted, they lodge at home, are borne in the long run by the entire community, and covered in the long run in the prices of products.
So that to the community competition, so far from being the life of trade, may be the reverse.
Competition, blind, vicious, unreasoning, may stimulate trade to abnormal activity, but such a condition is no more sound, healthy "life" than is the abnormal activity of the man who has taken a little too much alcohol-one stimulant is like another, exhausting in the end.
Competition is a fetish that men ignorantly worship, but the cult has had its day, the sanctity of the god is being assailed, the people are waking up and asking:
"What is this competition and why should it be hedged about and preserved?"
The country merchant asks himself: "Why is it a good thing for me to undersell the man across the way and try to drive him out of business? Why is it a good thing for him to undersell me and try to drive me out of business?"
If either succeeds, will not a stranger take the loser's . place?
The country mechanic asks himself: "Why should I work for less than others in the foolish effort to starve them out of the village? Why should they try to take the bread from my mouth by working for less than I must have to support my family? What gain is there in that sort of competition?"
The labor union says to its members: "You shall not
compete one against another by offering to work for lower wages or longer hours, that sort of competition is dead."
The tendency with the unions is to go a step further and say: "You shall not even compete in the amount of work you do per day, but each man shall do so much and no more." A crude solution of a pressing problem; a very curt answer to the proposition, "Competition is the life of trade."
The Socialist would eliminate competition altogether, a cardinal principle of his philosophy being that it is not only wasteful but inherently wrong, and the Socialist must be reckoned with. He is abroad in the land, he is making himself felt at the polls, he is winning and holding offices, he is causing the leaders of the older parties no little anxiety. Why? Because the people are becoming Socialists?
Not at all.
Socialism as Socialism probably has little if any greater appeal to-day than it had a generation ago. It will always have its ardent followers, but in its more logical form it is too abstract a theory to be understood and attract generally. Its practical suggestions are absorbed by older political organizations, with the result that the Socialist party is ever a band of enthusiasts "crying loudly in the wilderness."
The strength of Socialism at the moment lies in the fact that some of its demands coincide with the tendencies of the hour. Say, if you please, the world has caught up with Socialism in certain directions, and propositions that seemed revolutionary twenty-five years ago—yes, ten years ago-are now debated as reasonable, are even turned into laws.
More or less unconsciously the labor movement has