Posts Tagged competition

Cooperation, Competition, and Social Preservation

Busy MarketIn a continuation of my commentary on David Brooks’ analysis of modern conservatism, I offer a few more thoughts at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog. Channeling Richard Epstein’s views on the ways in which market cooperation and competition provide a fundamental basis for social order and preservation, I re-emphasize that a heavy emphasis on economic freedom is crucial for a renewed traditionalist conservatism. It’s less of a “tension” than Brooks thinks:

I agree [with Brooks] that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases [i.e. custom, social harmony, and moral preservation], yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each sect’s demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.

But Eptsein says all this much, much better, pointing specifically to the role that markets play in channeling voluntary action through competition and cooperation. The real threat to social preservation, for Epstein, lies elsewhere:

The sad truth here is that the government can suppress freedom and competition in economic markets, and can also wreak great destruction to the voluntary associations that operate in other areas. One recent vivid example of government overreaching is the determined effort of the Obama administration to insist that Roman Catholic institutions should provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The greatest threat to the intermediate institutions that social conservatives rightly extol is not markets. It is Read the rest of this entry »

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Monopolies and Competition: Mom! Dad! AT&T’s Not Sharing!

AT&T, T-Mobile, cell phone, acquisition, monopoly, competitionIn my most recent post at Ethika Politika, I comment on AT&T’s recent plans to acquire T-Mobile, a move that has garnered cries of “monopoly!” (or “duopoly!”) from all sides.

But although many see AT&T’s actions as “anti-competitive” in nature, I see no such thing. From where I stand, the acquisition has great potential to improve the company’s output, which could indeed benefit consumers and invigorate competition in the industry:

With a newly expanded network, AT&T could greatly improve its ability to expand service to rural areas. Due to increased economies of scale, it is likely that prices could decrease across the board. Additionally, although critics claim that the tightening of the market will have a negative impact on innovation, many believe it will raise the stakes (“mono y mono!”), leading to improvements on any number of company weak spots, from customer service to overall quality of service.

Yet whether the deal will be good or bad for (anyone’s) business is secondary; such matters remain debatable. The core issue, as I see it, rests in the mindset of those who adamantly oppose the deal on limited evidence, particularly those trying to prohibit it from happening altogether.

As I argue, the problems with such a mindset can be broken into three main areas: (1) a fear of competition itself, (2) a misunderstanding of the company-consumer relationship, and (3) a corresponding pessimism and all-around static view of human ingenuity and potential.

I expound on each, but regarding the third (and most important), here’s an excerpt:

Do we really believe that markets are that unmovable, or that we as innovators, explorers, and dreamers do not have what it takes to meet whatever challenges and needs may arise? Are we really so short-sighted that we Read the rest of this entry »

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The Age of Moderation: Western Ambivalence and the Moral Life

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, London School of EconomicsToday at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.

The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.

The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?

Here’s another excerpt:

The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.

As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Winning to Live: Competition Is About Discovery

horse, racing, competitionEconomist Friedrich von Hayek once referred to competition as a “discovery procedure.” This week at Ethika Politika, I explore what that means for us as moral individuals.

Far too often we confine our thinking about competition to matters of “justice” or “fairness.” Such considerations are certainly relevant and important, but I fear that we tend to fall back on them as a way of avoiding the impending risk and vulnerability within the competitive process.

As I argue, we must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose or value of competition, which is, above all, discovery.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Competition leads to reaction. It demands, provokes, and prods. It draws out information. When we engage in competitive activity, we are bound to uncover something new. We will not be certain of the end goal, and we will not be certain of the end result, but the information we gain throughout the process will point the way towards true value.

Here’s another:

The good news is that although competition may lead to a frustration of our original intentions, it need not be the frustration of our entire destinies. It may tell us that our role in the larger equilibrium (Hayek prefers the term “order”) has shifted, but it is up to us to find ways to provide value in the shifting frontier. We can certainly remain idle as we watch the world transform, or we can participate and innovate, continuing to develop as individuals and as a society.

Read the full article here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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It Takes a Civilization: Trade, Talents, and Toasters

Thomas Thwaites recently gave a marvelous talk at TED about his quest to build an electric toaster entirely from scratch.

The idea was sparked by an instance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the protagonist comes to a new planet only to realize that his knowledge and technological prowess are useless without the advanced civilization to back it. As Thwaites summarizes: “He realizes that without the rest of human society he can barely make a sandwich, let alone a toaster.”

Thwaites’ response: “But he didn’t have Wikipedia.”

Watch the video here:

The basic message of the talk, as interpreted by economist Donald Boudreaux, is that “through trade, millions tap into the talents and knowledge of others.”

It is a simple message, and you’ve most likely heard it before (my personal favorite is Milton Friedman’s pencil example). Such a message is only worth repeating because so many people still fail to see the fundamental value in free trade and globalization.

The only thing I want to add is Read the rest of this entry »

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Melting Pot (or Not?): Democracy and Cultural Diversity

Melting PotI’m in the middle of reading Kenneth Minogue’s new book, and so far it is all-around brilliant.

The basic premise is that democracy has wrongly evolved from a mere process to a supreme ideal. More and more, Minogue argues, the West is substituting individual moral responsibility for a superficial form of collective salvation. In short, decisions at the ballot box have subtly become the supreme authority on moral truth.

I’ll be reviewing the book in the near future, but at the moment I wanted to focus on a point Minogue makes in a chapter called “Democratic Ambiguities.” In the chapter, Minogue highlights various elements we need to understand before holistically evaluating democracy. One of Minogue’s many points therein centers around the social conditions necessary for successful democracy. One of those conditions, in Minogue’s view, is cultural homogeneity.

As Minogue writes:

…[T]he ideal of democracy has little purchase on plausibility unless “the whole people” is a relatively homogeneous set of people who “speak the same language” (even if it is only in a metaphorical sense, as in states such as Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium).

But what about the claim that there is no definitive “American culture”? Minogue apparently disagrees:

The United States established its cultural homogeneity as virtually a condition of admission to its shores. A pays politique can hardly exist unless individuals share similar sources of information and talk to each other in mutually comprehensible terms.

To prove his point, Minogue offers several examples where democracy has failed due to competing cultural (or “tribal”) forces. By examining situations in Lebanon, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Africa (no country in particular), Minogue concludes that some degree of cultural Read the rest of this entry »

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The Economics of Hipsterdom: An Interview with Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken“Is Christianity cool in today’s culture?” asks Brett McCracken. “And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord?”

McCracken explores this question (and more) in his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I outlined some of the book’s major themes in my recent review, but there are some other areas I found particularly pertinent for readers of this blog — namely, the societal systems and cultural institutions that influence and steer hipsterdom.

How should the church respond to “cool” in a capitalistic society? How does competition jive with Christianity? How do we avoid the artificial and attain the authentic in our pursuit of cool?

Although McCracken touches on these matters in the book, he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with Remnant Culture. If you’re intrigued by his answers, I highly encourage you to pick up the book. Enjoy!

Q: In your chronicling of the history of hip, you call America a country that was “born to be hip.” What about America makes it stand out in the evolution of hipsterdom?

America’s founding principles were utterly conducive to a thriving culture of hip. Individualism and a “self-made-man” ethos, in which status was no longer bound to blood or land but was determined by things like ambition and cleverness, were particularly hip-friendly values. America was founded on the notion that each man is sovereign and subject to no one but himself. The republic was governed by and for the people, and thus it was your right — indeed, your mandate — to be independent and upwardly mobile. America upended the old world’s hierarchies and power classes and made democratic, bottom-up populism the new force majeuer (well, in theory at least). America amplified the dance of power between hereditary elites, upstart entrepreneurs, and newly educated bohemian/intellectual classes, which was the hallmark of hip’s development in Europe in prior centuries. Furthermore, America was just this totally new, fresh, immigrant-heavy melting pot in which ideas, cultures, and ideologies from all over the place came together in dynamic ways. Hip always thrives most at the intersection of a plurality of voices and perspectives which can freely interact under the banner of democracy, and America has been ground zero for intersections of that sort ever since its founding.

Q: If American capitalism has led to “hyperindividuation,” and if the resulting self-centeredness opposes the Christian calling, how can Christians hope to achieve authentic Christian cool in a capitalistic society?

It’s difficult. Our capitalistic society is based on feeding our human impulses to want to stand out, be noticed, and be envied. In many ways, the economy is based on status symbols — buying and selling things that help us Read the rest of this entry »

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Up from Feudalism: Cultivating Culture in the Status-Free Zone


When status competition was limited, people were more likely to turn to status-free zones.

Michael Knox Beran has a hearty piece in this month’s National Review discussing the cultural implications of status competition (“Status Hiatus”). In the article, Beran discusses the evolution of such competition throughout human history, focusing primarily on the West.

Beran explains that in the feudalistic societies of old, status was organized through “state-enforced hierarchies” of one kind or another, whereas in today’s free(r) societies there is a great deal of status competition.

However, despite the advances we’ve made in making status mobility more universal, Beran sees a fundamental problem that will always exist:

The difficulty is that every tremor of satisfaction we feel when we look down (upon those who are lower than we are in a particular hierarchy) is counterbalanced by the pain we feel when we look up (to those who are higher). The farther one climbs, the more vexing the problem becomes.

There are two basic approaches to “managing” status, both of which present their own problems. First, we can make status primarily about merit (which we have done in America), but by doing so we will risk the marginalization of society’s lower-skilled members. Second, we can try to destroy all hierarchies by force (via government “equalization”), but this route will surely lead us backwards toward feudalistic containment (not to mention the resulting miseries).

To solve the problem, Beran tries to determine which approach leads to more human flourishing. Based on the historical record, Beran concludes that as silly as our status pursuits may be, they do indeed lead us to Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Science of Morality: A Secular Argument for Cultural Competition

Last week, I came across an interesting talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “The New Science of Morality” (via Arnold Kling).

Haidt is well known for his research on the evolution of morality through cultural and political lenses (he has authored two books on the subject), and he provides a good introduction to his views in this discussion.

You can watch the video here:

If you’re not in the mood to watch all 28 minutes, Haidt’s basic view on cultural formation is this:

I just briefly want to say, I think it’s also crucial, as long as you’re going to be a nativist and say, “oh, you know, evolution, it’s innate,” you also have to be a constructivist. I’m all in favor of reductionism, as long as it’s paired with emergentism. You’ve got to be able to go down to the low level, but then also up to the level of institutions and cultural traditions and, you know, all kinds of local factors.

Unlike this blog, Haidt believes in biological evolution, and likewise he takes a purely secular approach to discussing cultural evolution. However, his perspective is well worth considering, particularly because his conclusion points to Read the rest of this entry »

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James Madison on Proposition 8: Factions, Federalism, and Gay Marriage

No. But you certainly can.

By now, I assume that most of you have heard the news regarding Proposition 8, which was overturned this week by a California judge.

From The New York Times:

Saying that [Proposition 8] discriminates against gay men and women, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing supporters of such unions at least a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

As usual, the media has been buzzing, but it seems that the majority of the arguments (from both sides) have to do with the morality of gay (or straight) marriage, and whether we as a society should “accept” it.

These are necessary arguments to have, but the fundamental issue at the moment has to do with whether this decision holds up on Constitutional grounds. I would argue that it does not.

The decision centers around the last part of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says the following:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Obviously we can’t just interpret the Equal Protection Clause all by itself (it has years of jurisprudence coloring its words and meaning), but rather than dive into a nuanced, methodical discussion of how we should interpret the clause, I will simply say that I don’t believe the clause has anything to do with homosexual marriage, or heterosexual marriage for that matter.

In this particular instance, perhaps one good way to understand what it should apply to is to detach ourselves from thinking of “marriage” as Read the rest of this entry »

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