Is Competition Good?

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jneo's picture
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Is Competition Good?



In economics we are all taught that COMPETITION is GOOD, but when you really look at it really?  If you have a technical problem to fix (could be a number of things) is it better to Split up those engineers/workers to compete and get the job done?,  or have them all collaborate together to correct the problem?  


It's kind of like if your internal organs wanted to build a free-enterprise system and all your organs competed for blood and nutrients you would rott away in a week, but instead they all work together.  

maveri's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?
JK121 wrote:



In economics we are all taught that COMPETITION is GOOD, but when you really look at it really?  If you have a technical problem to fix (could be a number of things) is it better to Split up those engineers/workers to compete and get the job done?,  or have them all collaborate together to correct the problem?  


It's kind of like if your internal organs wanted to build a free-enterprise system and all your organs competed for blood and nutrients you would rott away in a week, but instead they all work together.  

I personally don't believe it is.


  • It's wasteful. It dictates that multiple streams of companies/individuals go it alone all duplicating their efforts in an effort to win
  • It teaches that cooperation is ultimately bad
  • It means that for every 100 players, 1 is a winner and 99 are ultimately looses
  • It detracts from the notion that bettering oneself (and by extension others around you) is really the ultimate goal
  • It's premised on survival of the fittest which is OK for animals who don't really plan ahead and work together or are able to even envisage a better way.
  • etc etc etc

If we truly used our resources in a cooperative fashion, I think the need for competition would decline and possibly vanish but that would mean an averaging of the worlds lifestyles and those already rolling in wealth will not allow that if they can help it - so the notion that competition drives a society forward still prevails.

Perhaps in time someone may quantify what competition really costs a community and then perhaps the gains might be viewed a little differently. When one company succeeds where 10 others go under has got to be such a wasteful use of resources in my opinion but like most things - an abundance of resources means we have not really counted the true cost as yet

Competition against oneself is good and competition against a true enemy (poverty, hunger etc) is a worthy pursuit - but competition against someone else ultimately ends with one holding the wealth whilst others go without - at least this is how I see it...

PlicketyCat's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

A healthy level of competition, within a cooperative setting, does help us all keep improving. The key is that it should be good-natured competition with oneself and others of equal skill, not bullying and not "I rock and you suck" kind of competition. Without some form of competition, I think we'd lose some of our motivation... but when faced with only competition we'd also lose our motivation.

I can see both sides of pooling or dividing resources. By pooling your resources, there is a potential to get things done much faster with less waste. However, by dividing the resources to tackle the same problem, if one group isn't successful there is still a chance that the other one will be... so you don't lose all that time and all your resources on the failed attempt. Setting them up against each other to race to the finish line, however, is ultimately self-defeating for the group (but lands the Fat Cat higher up the ladder).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record... balance is the key.

pir8don's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

Focus on competition also leads to undue focus on winners as evidenced in a number of the falacies identified by Nissim Taleb in Black Swans.

Rationally the value of lessons to be learned from the losers is as great if not greater than the winners but because of a 'winner prejudice' the losers value is obscured, minimised and downplayed. Particullarly in science research where the many who don't discover the secret but eliminate many other possibilities go virtually unacknowledged.

This perverted focus on winning leaves silent evidence inaccessible. So much of value to us is 'discovered' inadvertently and unintentionally. How much more must have been missed in too little attention paid to the efforts of those without such luck?

Scale unfortunately contibutes to the winner prejudice. In a complex word with only limited attention available it seems sensible to focus on the winner and not the rest. This is a coping mechanism to deal with an increasingly connected and informed world but it paints a monochromatic picture at best. It gives rise to the phenomena of judgement without due attention to which we are all forced to turn as complexity races away exponentially. IMO.


Aaron M's picture
Aaron M
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Re: Is Competition Good?

I personally believe it IS good, and the organism analogy is flawed, because it assumes the competition is localized or confined.

The matter is it's really more like Evolution than biological organism. It's a process, not a singular construction.

It forces progress, and disallows stagnation. Things that do not press forward become obsolete, thus allowing more innovative and better adapted features to survive and "pick up the ball" so to speak.

The same problem with competition has infected capitalism: Our leaders have forced stagnation via planned obsolescense and trade restrictions (and many other things) which has effectively handcuffed the processes in question.

They are not flawed, we've just ruined their ability to work, to keep those at the top at the top.
This might seem like a bi-product of said processes again, but it's more or less an innate human desire to amass and retain power.

Humans are the problem.



DavidLachman's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

As I recall the root meaning of competition is "to strive together" which seems like the kind of competition we need more of.

Farmer Brown's picture
Farmer Brown
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Re: Is Competition Good?

Competition is not only good, it is a natural part of human existence.  This very thread is an exhibit of a competition of ideas.  Even those that contend that competition is "bad", are themselves engaged in it in the marketplace of ideas.

mpelchat's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

Competition at a team, group or organization level needs cooperation to use time and resources effectively.   To have prolonged competition, cooperation is mandatory.  On the other side of the coin, cooperation needs competition or the team, group or organization as part of human nature will become complacent and it is very likely that a "group think" model of cooperation will happen.

Competition and cooperation need each other so humans can grow and become stronger in an effective manor.  In my opinion, a healthy balance is best.

In the very very very very very long term, no matter what happens over the few years or decades the goal of human kind is to get off this rock ((red giant scenario)) and find other plants to inhabit.  This will take a great competitive nature to overcome obstacles and great cooperation to utilize our resources and time well.


Gungnir's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

To me competition is critical to the success of both the human organism to this point, to it's future evolution, and to becoming the most successful living creature on the planet (although some may argue, that we're successful).

In any endeavor, competition weeds out the weak solution. If we all sat around and worked on a concensus based system and everything we needed was designed by commitee, we'd still be sitting by campfires, cooking meat on sticks, and dying at 35 as elders. If I remember the stats correctly 99% of our current technologies and sciences stem from 1% of the population, scary thought. So they went out and did their thing, leading us to where we are today, warts and all.

Unfortunately taken too far this can become destructive, but healthy competitive challenge against a challenger, or a conceptual hurdle is what drives many people to perform. So I disagree, that competition is bad.

To add to this, since we are intrinsically competitive beings, if we do not compete against a challenge, we'll make them up on the individual or group level. Who can hook up with the prettiest girl (or guy), who can get to point B the quickest, who can get into and sneak the most out of food storage. These are incredibly damaging on a community front, for instance if the prettiest girl is already partnered with someone, and suddenly she's getting advances from a large number of others in the community, it's a flashpoint waiting to happen. Channelling this competitive spirit is key, so we need to carefully channel it at something productive.

Since we're not so far removed from our evolutionary ancestors (the great apes) you can look to them to see how humans would interact on a natural level, there's a Alpha, both male and female, who are not voted there, they compete to be there and stay there, there are Beta's who are waiting in the wings, to take the Alpha, and finally the Omega's where many former Alpha's end up.Since we come from this kind of behavioral culture, competition is in our nature.

Historically any culture that was not competing successfully in the arena that led to its success in the first place has crumbled, be that arena conquest, exploration, economics, etc.

pleaseremoveme's picture
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Re: Is Competition Good?

Competition makes me think of sports: for most people, sport is good. It encourages them to improve their health and to learn new skills. But top sportmen want to win so badly, that they use drugs, that they injure themselves while training, and some even die. This seems more or less similar to what happened to the banks: competition made them take irresponsible risks. Some bankers started ponzi schemes, others had big losses, and some banks even failed.

So while competition might give some positive incentives, top players should be protected against themselves.


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