Competition is lauded as a foundational aspect of both the capitalist economy and human development. It is proclaimed that because of competition in the market, capitalism forces businesses to distribute goods and services as efficiently as possible; that without competition, innovation would be minimal if not impossible, and people would have no incentive to do better. But these misconceptions are ahistorical, and a closer look explains how competition is not at all a force against the case for a socialist future.
First of all, to get things out of the way, the free market is an idealistic dream. The atrocities of slavery, the brutality of child labour and the unbearable poverty of so many have all been facilitated by the free market. The horrors of colonialism too, show that markets were forced open by states – and their armies – acting for capital. There was very little free about the market. What reforms that have been made since then have been the result of struggle from below: the formation of unions, workers’ organisation, strikes, and rebellions. It is in capitalism’s interests to drive down our conditions. After all, the less you pay your workers, the more you gain in profits; And the more you gain in profits, the better you can outcompete your rivals. This reveals the true intentions of business dealings in the market: to extract as much profit as possible. The distribution of commodities is merely the means by which to do so.
We can see this profiteering clearly today: wages staying stagnant as much as possible, avoiding health and safety practices due to their costs, continuing environmentally damaging activities for short-term profits, outsourcing labour to historically subjugated nations, and the list goes on. Some of these behaviours are carried out by smaller businesses trying to survive in a world where big business dominates, but this is more a critique of capitalism than a praise of it. Those that can’t afford all of the fancy advertising, or the minimum wage increases so necessary to ensure that the poorest can eat and live, or that can’t keep up with the ever-increasing costs of food and living, find themselves failing, in the end being absorbed by a larger business or leaving behind empty buildings up for lease.
While competition allows the winner to take it all, the losers are left to toil. And those that toil are left with the scraps, subsistence only enough to survive, perhaps just enough to make it all bearable. The world remains ravaged by crises. An alternative system, one based on human cooperation and the democratic allocation of resources, one that recognises that human labour is what instils value into our products, becomes increasingly more relevant to the working people.
Human Development in a Socialist Future
From who can run the fastest or jump the highest, to who has the best problem-solving capabilities, competition between humans is present in many different forms. Although it seems to be an important part of being human, it shouldn’t be hailed as the driving force for human development in this day and age. Competition over scarce resources has somewhat naturally led societies to develop the way that they have, giving rise to class divisions on the way. But now with our productive forces more concentrated than ever and with our massively extensive international trading networks, it is all the more true that we must organise the world in a way that feeds, houses and takes care of everyone involved in human activity.
Cooperation plays an exceedingly important part in our ability to have survived as humans. Without people working together in relatively close proximity, we would never have been able to create the abundance of commodities that we can create today. Why shouldn’t we emphasise this extremely important aspect of our societies? Why shouldn’t we have a system which recognises our joint efforts instead of celebrating only the people that have been fortunate enough to be the owners of property? Don’t we have just as much of an ability to organise and develop our productive capabilities?
Some may ask, without monetary incentives “How would people be motivated to work?”, “How would we innovate?”. But we still need to work to have things, and being able to hold pride in our truest expressions of humanity without having to worry about individually meeting our basic survival needs can provide great motivation in and of itself to go out and work better. This already happens in hobby spaces, where people strive to become the best they can be, even if they won’t ever gain monetary recognition for their efforts. Further, our drive to make these essential tasks easier absolutely allows room for innovation to occur. Fostering a drive to better meet the needs of the people around us and those beyond provides unlimited opportunities to create better ways of doing things.
Now we can’t flick a switch to make a perfect society, and competition itself can never be (and doesn’t need to be) driven out of us, but nurturing a different kind of competition can lead to greater outcomes for the world’s people. Instead of celebrating profit, in any given region we can celebrate and hold pride in those people that best help in developing a better world for us all to live in without restricting the ability to survive of those who may not be as capable. We can celebrate and learn from the regions that best provide food, clothing, shelter and healthcare to their citizens. This paired with an economic system that recognizes the labour of the people all around the globe that are working so hard to provide for so many, gives us a real platform to develop a truly prosperous future for all.