An exploration of how many of us feel “increasingly uneasy about the results of unbridled competition.”
In their latest collaboration, Stucke (Law/Univ. of Tennessee) and Ezrachi (Competition Law/Univ. of Oxford), who co-authored Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy (2016, etc.), parse the theory of competition within a society, delineating how sometimes the positive aspects of competition—e.g., in choosing a college, on supermarket shelves, regarding hotel prices, etc.—can spiral downward, becoming a menace. Because competition has been sold for centuries as an unbridled positive, reading this book requires counterintuitive thinking and an open mind. Using a lucid, conversational style, the authors thoroughly explain each case study and anecdote. Does competition regularly result in a race to the bottom? Yes, the authors maintain, and they present ideas about how to achieve what they term “noble competition,” in which sellers, buyers, and society at large all benefit. One homespun example of noble competition can be found at local farmers markets, where, for example, a few local growers of tomatoes offer quality produce grown organically at reasonable prices. Each grower wants to earn the most cash on a given Saturday, but there is nothing destructive about the friendly competition. On the other hand, in one of the book’s most effective sections about negative competition, in which almost everybody loses, the authors examine big-time college football. Dollars that could have been allocated to improving academics on campus instead end up going toward exorbitant coaches’ salaries and luxury boxes for wealthy alumni. Consequently, colleges engage in an arms race to see who can provide the most impressive facilities or pay their coach the most. The authors also offer persuasive studies about how too much competition can lead to consumer paralysis, and they clearly demonstrate how advocates of untrammeled competition successfully lobby against government regulation, thus causing harm to the general citizenry.
Useful reading for business owners and attentive consumers.