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Competition and Cooperation - PDF - / Send As Email
Essential elements of the simple system of natural liberty.
by David Boaz
In The Freeman/Ideas on Liberty, September 1997, pp. 529-531 - Previous Article / Next Article

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THEFREEMAN IDEAS ON LIBERTY
Competition and Cooperation
by David Boaz
efenders of the market process often D stress the benefits of competition. The
competitive process allows for constant test-
ing, experimenting, and adapting in response
to changing situations. It keeps businesses
constantly on their toes to serve consumers.
Both analytically and empirically, we can see
that competitive systems produce better re-
sults than centralized or monopoly systems.
That's why, in books, newspaper articles,
and television appearances, advocates of free
markets stress the importance of the compet-
itive marketplace and oppose restrictions on
competition.
But too many people listen to the praise for
competition and hear words like hostile, cut-
throat, or dog-eat-dog. They wonder whether
cooperation wouldn't be better than such an
antagonistic posture toward the world. Bil-
lionaire investor George Soros, for instance,
writes in the Atlantic Monthly, "Too much
competition and too little cooperation can
cause intolerable inequities and instability."
He goes on to say that his "main point . . . is
that cooperation is as much a part of the
system as Competition, and the slogan 'sur-
vival of the fittest' distorts this fact."
Now it should be noted that the phrase
"survival of the fittest" is rarely used by
advocates of freedom and free markets. It
was coined to describe the process of biolog-
ical evolution and to refer to the survival of
the traits that were best suited to the envi-
David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cat0
Institute, is author of Libertarianism: A Primer and
editor of The Libertarian Reader (both published
by The Free Press, 1996).
ronment; it may well be applicable to the
competition of enterprises in the market, but
it certainly is never intended to imply the
survival of only the fittest individuals in a
capitalist system. It is not the friends but the
enemies of the market process who use the
term "survival of the fittest" to describe
economic competition.
What needs to be made clear is that those
who say that human beings "are made for
cooperation, not competition" fail to recog-
nize that the market is cooperation. Indeed,
as discussed below, it is people competing to
cooperate.
Individualism and Community
Similarly, opponents of classical liberalism
have been quick to accuse liberals of favoring
"atomistic" individualism, in which each
person is an island unto himself, out only for
his own profit with no regard for the needs
or wants of others. E. J. Dionne Jr. of the
Washington Post has written that modern
libertarians believe that "individuals come
into the world as fully formed adults who
should be held responsible for their actions
from the moment of their birth." Columnist
Charles Krauthammer wrote in a review of
Charles Murray's What It Means to Be a
Libertarian that until Murray came along the
libertarian vision was "a race of rugged indi-
vidualists each living in a mountaintop cabin
with a barbed wire fence and a 'No Trespassing'
sign outside." How he neglected to include
"each armed to the teeth" I can't imagine.
Of course, nobody actually believes in the
529


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