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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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The ambition of this book is to show that competition, but not only market competition, is a key regulating mechanism present in all social spheres. Without competition, the ability to leave existing institutions and join or start new ones, agents would be trapped and open to exploitation by elites. Insiders find ways to exploit any static system, no matter how good or just. Therefore, competition is far too important to leave to economists. As will become clear, over-reliance on the market, or any particular institution, is inherently anti-competitive.

This book develops a theory of competition nestled in a broader theory of social order. While it is uncontroversial that community norms, hierarchical organisation and open deliberation contribute to social order, this cannot be said of competition. In fact, outside economics, much literature in social sciences contrasts competition with cooperation, denigrating competition as corrosive to social order. To Thorsten Veblen (1915), competition results from predatory propensities of the wealthy. By contrasting a speculator with an engineer, he describes competition not only as anti-social but also irrational, standing in the way of sensible management of the society. According to Fred Hirsch (1983), competition amounts to an unproductive, ever more exhausting rat race for the same prize. Competition is often associated with short-sighted selfishness, a “grab and run” mentality, and contrasted with cooperation oriented to the long-term and common good. Even theorists more sympathetic to competition, such as Amitai Etzioni, thought it necessary to severely constrain or “encapsulate” it.

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