Competition and Cooperation

Excerpted from the book;
Individual Liberty: Selections From the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker
Vanguard Press, New York, 1926
Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, NY, 1973.


"Is competition or cooperation the truest expression of that mutual trust and fraternal goodwill which alone can replace present forms of authority, usages and customs as the social bond of union?" asked W. T. Horn, in a communication to Liberty. Here is the editor's answer:

The supposition that competition means war rests upon old notions and false phrases that have been long current, but are rapidly passing into the limbo of exploded fallacies. Competition means war only when it is in some way restricted, either in scope or intensity, - that is, when it is not perfectly free competition; for then its benefits are won by one class at the expense of another, instead of by all at the expense of nature's forces. When universal and unrestricted, competition means the most perfect peace and the truest cooperation; for then it becomes simply a test of forces resulting in their most advantageous utilization. As soon as the demand for labor begins to exceed the supply, making it an easy matter for every one to get work at wages equal to his product, it is for the interest of all (including his immediate competitors) that the best man should win; which is another way of saying that, where freedom prevails, competition and cooperation are identical. For further proof and elaboration of this proposition I refer Mr. Horn to Andrew's "Science of Society" and Fowler's pamphlets on "Cooperation." The real problem, then, is to make the demand for labor greater than the supply, and this can only be done through competition in the supply of money or use of credit. This is abundantly shown in Greene's "Mutual Banking" and the financial writings of Proudhon and Spooner. My correspondent seems filled with the sentiment of good-fellowship, but ignorant of the science thereof, and even of the fact that there is such a science. He will find this science expounded in the works already named. If, after studying and mastering these, he still should have any doubts, Liberty will then try to set them at rest.

What the person who goes out into the work-a-day world will see there depends very much upon the power of his mental vision. If that is strong enough to enable him to see that the evils around him are caused by a prohibition of competition in certain directions, it is not unlikely that he will be filled with a "wish to foster competition." Such, however, will not be the case with a man who so misapprehends competition as to suppose that monopoly is its soul. Instead of its soul, it is its antithesis.

Whatever the reason for which men strive for wealth, as a general thing they get it, not by competition, but by the application of force to the suppression of certain kinds of competition, - in other words, by governmental institution and protection of monopoly.

Inasmuch as the monopolist is the victor, it is true that to deny him the spoils of victory is to sheathe the sword of monopoly. But you do not thereby sheathe the sword of competition (if you insist on calling it a sword), because competition yields no spoils to the victor, but only wages to the laborer.

When my correspondent says that all monopolies are "resultants of a competition as free as nature could make it," he makes competition inclusive of the struggle between invasive forces, whereas he ought to know that free competition, in the economic sense of the phrase, implies the suppression of invasive forces, leaving a free field for the exercise of those that are non-invasive.

If a man were to declare that, when the benefits of labor cease to be won by one class at the expense of another and when they are shared by all at the expense of nature's forces, labor loses its raison d'etre and dies, his sanity would not long remain unquestioned; but the folly of such an utterance is not lessened an iota by the substitution of the word competition for the word labor. As long as the gastric juice continues to insist upon its rights, I fancy that neither labor nor competition will lack a raison d'etre, even though the laborer and competitor should find himself under the necessity of wresting his "spoils" from the bosom of his mother earth instead of from the pocket of his brother man.

In Mrs. Glass's recipe for cooking a hare, the first thing was to catch the hare. So in Mr. Horn's recipe for the solution of economic forms in ethical concepts, the first thing is to get the concepts. Now, the concepts of mutual confidence and good-fellowship are not to be obtained by preaching, - otherwise the church militant would long ago have become the church triumphant; or, by force, otherwise progress would have gone hand in hand with authority instead of with liberty; but only by unrestricted freedom, - that is, by competition, the necessary condition of confidence, fellowship, and cooperation, which can never come as long as monopoly, "the economic expression of hostility and mastership," continues to exist.


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