Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J.O'Boyle | Go to book overview

8

DOUBTS ABOUT COMPETITION

Mark A. Lutz

The work I have set before me is this: how to get rid of the evils of competition while retaining its advantages.

(Marshall 1881) 1

Bill Waters is well known as an eloquent advocate of a type of economic thought that cautions us not to embrace free competition as the sole regulatory principle in economic matters (Waters 1988). In taking this stance, he is, of course, marching in tune with Solidarism and figures such as Charles de Coux who regarded competition as "deleterious" and in need of being restrained in order to give a far greater weight to cooperation (Nitsch 1990:16, 72).

Some venting of doubt about the unalloyed goodness of competition, as expressed in the epigraph, has been rare among orthodox economists, especially among the contemporary generation, but at the same time, a suspicion of competition has for a long time been a key element of normative social economics.

In what follows, I shall start out by giving a short and rather rough historical sketch of the economists' examination of the process of competition. In so doing, I first shall try to point to the historical evolution of the viewpoints of prominent economists in the mainstream of the discipline, and then turn to the social economists of the human welfare school. The second part of the chapter discusses the new dimensions brought about by various developments in our economy that are likely to increase strongly the kind of misgivings social economists have been having about competition as a tool of social control.


HISTORICAL DOUBTS

Qualified doubts in the mainstream

Competition in society and economics is a phenomenon of a comparatively modern period, but ever since Adam Smith it has been a most central

-109-

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