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Competition, Coordination, Social Order

Responsible Business, Civil Society, and Government in an Open Society


Jacek Giedrojć

The author analyses competition as one of four coordinating mechanisms helping agents mutually to orientate their actions, avoid chaos, and produce social order. Competition is a key dimension of developed societies. It helps to structure and is also conducive to social change. Competing agents constrain one another, making it hard for anyone to change their position. They discover new routines the best of which may later be institutionalized. Competition is a solvent of power but only in relatively equal societies. Entrenched wealth or status restricts competition, thus impoverishing social order. The author also evaluates the theory of competition to explore such topics as corporate social responsibility, relations between government, business and civil society, and reflexivity in social sciences.

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Chapter 6: Critical Views of Competition


Competition is not a popular subject of study outside economics and business. The dislike of competition may be understood in the light of the quest by social sciences to address the problem of order as a challenge to which a technical solution must be found. In this chapter I explore some critical views of competition. The first section reviews the understanding of competition as a counterproductive quest for status in well-known contributions by Veblen, Hirsch and Girard. The second section critically reviews the illuminating game-theoretic analysis of competition and cooperation by Robert Axelrod. In the third section I consider whether the currently fashionable soft and cosy concept of networks could be an alternative to hard-nosed competition.

Competition as a Counterproductive Rat Race

Competition is often associated with selfishness. Many thinkers have described competition as essentially anti-social, associated with the grab-and-run mentality and single-minded pursuit of short-term and usually pecuniary ends. According to one of the classics, Thorstein Veblen, in the first societies, competition amounted to inter-group war (Veblen 1915). According to him, the institutions of both marriage and private property originated in the exclusive rights of warriors to women captured in wars. Gradually, as semi-peaceful productive arrangement became pervasive, private property ceased to be an attribute of valour in battle. Competition became a phenomenon internal to a society rather than an inter-group one, and property became a sign of success in semi-peaceful productive activities. By this stage, ownership of property, which was initially praised...

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