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Business Competition

Abstract

This paper discusses that business competition today’s leads to diverse self centeredness, though it is healthy for economy of a country but at times it overlap the sphere of peace and humanity. This paper further discusses that Competition is essential to capitalism, but is undermine ethics and misunderstand the nature of competition. It is defined that Darwinian metaphor tune with the corporate nature of most competition that is the familiar war metaphor that one hears in so many corporate boardrooms. Though different aspects of business competition been presented.

Introduction

Mother Teresa, the famous Roman Catholic nun who worked in Kolkata, India once said the following: `If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.` I completely agree with Mother Teresa.

Competition in business is to be expected and is healthy for the economy, but individuals could also be tempted to outwit their neighbors, to work and save simply to show them up or to get the best of them. Even if a person is assiduous in these activities the desire to overshadow someone else is a sign of moral dearth. The problem with excessive competitiveness—certainly, the way to know if it was excessive—was that it

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substituted a wrong for a more equitable end. The proper end of economic activity was to contribute beneficially to the good, or happiness, of all.

While one did this, his or her own profit was justified, but excessive competitiveness replaced this appropriate end with the pursuit of one’s own glory. Pride is the vice that made this an ethical evil. Trying to accumulate wealth, simply to outperform a neighbor, meant one is concerned foremost with individual elaboration and display. The morally correct attitude, consequently, is to be conscientious in one’s work for the benefit of all and not to be seduced by fantasies of how well one is doing compared with others (Samuel Hopkins, 1960).

Macho Darwinian concepts

Among the most damaging myths and images in business talk are those macho Darwinian concepts, such as “survival of the fittest” and “it’s a jungle out there.” The fundamental idea, of course, is that life in business is competitive, and it isn’t always fair. But that obvious pair of points is very diverse from the “dog-eat-dog,” “every[man]-for-[him]self” imagery that is routine in the business world. It is true that business is and should be competitive, but it is not true that it is competitive or cannibalistic or that “one does whatever it takes to survive.”

However competitive a particular industry may be, it constantly rests on a foundation of shared interests and equally agreed upon rules of conduct, and the competition takes place not in a jungle but in a society that the industry in question apparently both serves and depends on. Business life is essentially cooperative.

It is only within the bounds of equally shared concerns that competition is possible. And in spite of the “every animal for itself” jungle metaphor, business almost always entails large cooperative and mutually trusting groups, not just corporations themselves but networks of suppliers, service people, customers, and investors. Competition is necessary to capitalism, but to misinterpret this as “unbridled” competition is to weaken ethics and misunderstand the nature of competition.

Similar to the Darwinian metaphor but to some extent more in tune with the corporate nature of most competition is the familiar war symbol that one hears in so many corporate boardrooms. It has often been pointed out that the hierarchical structure of the majority corporations not simply resembles but is modeled after a military chain of command. Employees are referred to as troops, and courses of action are called campaigns. Cash reserves are dubbed war chests, and doing business is illustrated as battle. But even if all were fair in love and war (it’s not), it is obvious that doing business isn’t like going to war but presupposes mutual trust and collaboration and the honoring of contracts, not just endearing at any cost, in any way possible.

Business as a Game

Business competition leads quite obviously to an emphasis on winning, but recently we’ve gotten somewhat more sophisticated in our competitive imagery. A person wins (or loses) wars, but a person also win (or loses) games, and games are a lot more fun than wars. (The game metaphor came to the fore in the sixties, while life itself was commonly viewed as a game.) Business was no longer portrayed bloodthirstily as a life-and-death effort but was seen as something voluntary, exciting, and challenging.

Thus the sports and team imagery of much current business talk, similar in some senses to military imagery but devoid of the violence and much more conscious of the underlying mutual interests and rules of fair play. The dilemma with the sports metaphor, though, is that it makes business too self-enclosed, too merely inadvertently connected with productivity, service, and prosperity. Business for most people is not or is no longer a game within life, to be played if one needs for the challenge and the excitement. The business world encompasses and affects everyone. Certainly, most people in business don’t see it as a game at all but moderately as a way to make a living.

There is, however, a far more refined conception of business as a game, derived from utilitarianism and presently the source of a number of technical disciplines, such as social choice theory. This model, so dear to the hearts of econometricians, is usually based on what has been called, since the forging work of von Neumann and others, game theory. Except for an occasional piece of jargon (e.g., “zero-sum game”), this model has not permeated business as such nearly as systematically as it has come to define much of business ethics and social philosophy.

Game theory begins with a set of unsure, anti-Aristotelian presuppositions concerning business and human decision making, in particular the uncritical idea that people tend to act in their own self-centeredness to maximize their “utility preferences.” Sometime this is presented as just a worst-case scenario; sporadically it is couched in the more neutral terms of reasonableness such that the theory is indifferent to the nature of ends (Colin Campbell, 1987)).

A frequent paradigm is the so-called prisoner’s predicament, in which rationality seems to require that cooperation is adversative to prudence, an extremely dangerous pattern for business practices (Henry W. Bellows, 1845, 95).

In game theory, however, as in the more offensive game metaphor, the model is too self-contained, too cut off from the larger societal picture, and at the same time too negligent of the built-in rewards of participating in a practice where, opposing to some versions of the metaphor, winning isn’t the only thing. In other words, the alluring idea of individual players presumes what is not the case, that business is fundamentally competition, whether lawful or warlike, between cut off individuals whose interests (as winners or losers) are either antagonistic or autonomous of those of the other (Horace Bushnell, 1864, 7).

This most determined metaphor, which seems to endure no matter how much evidence is amassed against it, is atomistic individualism. It is this, more than anything else, that makes the Aristotelian approach to business ethics seem so odd, so doubtful. We suppose whether or not we say so, that business is “every man [sic] for himself and then find it hard to consent on any place for the virtues, at least, any virtue over and above rational cautiousness.

The resultant idea, that business life consists completely of mutually agreed upon transactions between individual citizens (avoiding government interference), goes back beyond Adam Smith and the philosophy that subjugated eighteenth-century Britain and France. But it has always been a false view of human nature, whether in the “state of nature” or in society, and the majority of business life too consists of roles and responsibilities in cooperative endeavors (whether they be small mom-and-pop businesses or massive multinational corporations).

Government and business are as often partners as opponents (however annoying the labyrinth of regulation that connects them may sometimes seem). But atomistic individualism is not just a bad theory of human nature and completely inaccurate in the face of the corporate involvedness of today’s business world; it is also naive in its possibility that no institutional rules and practices underlie even the simplest promise, contract, or exchange. Business is a societal practice, not an activity of isolated individuals. It is probable only because it takes place in a culture with a recognized set of procedures and expectations, and these are not (except in the details) open to individual tinkering.

Business and donating wealth

Some laments occasioned admonitions directed particularly toward those who seemed to value riches and material possessions more than the socially compassionate ends to which those means should be put. They expectant people of wealth to contribute money to their churches and other charitable causes, or in any case to plow profits back into their businesses, somewhat than spending them on luxury goods. “The richer … a man is,” advised one writer in a distinctive formulation, “the greater is the compulsion upon him to utilize his gifts in lessening the sum of human misery.” John Randolph, 1867, 324.

For the immense middle and working classes, such advice might have done little to discourage hard work and monetary accretion, and yet for them, keeping work in proper perspective as a means to higher ends was at least a way of alleviating some of its drudgery and routine. “Once let a man convert his business into a mechanism of honor, compassion, and patriotism,” Henry Ward Beecher advised, “and from that moment it is transfigured, and men judge its distinction and merit, not by what it outwardly is, but by what it has done, and can do.” (Henry Ward Beecher, 1862, 235).

The moral limits restricting overzealousness in work and the quest of wealth also came from a diverse form of moralist argument. Less overtly, it was usually assumed in moralist teachings of the period that the economic life was restricted by a host of other duties and responsibilities: to one’s church, family, and society. In all these areas, responsibility was above all an issue of priority, an attitude, or right way of thinking.

The moralists cited biblical restrictions against the love of money to show that hoarding could become an obsession. The proper attitude was to use one’s time and talents astutely. If prosperity resulted, then so be it, but to worry concerning prosperity, or focus all one’s attention on financial schemes, was to blind oneself to the other areas of life requiring one’s attention.

Conclusion

Accordingly, it is a sign of substantial progress that one of the leading models of today’s corporate thinking is the thought of a corporate culture. As with any analogy or metaphor, there are, of course, disanalogies, but it is significant to appreciate the virtue of this metaphor (Horace Bushnell, 1864, 7).

It is social and rejects atomistic uniqueness. It recognizes the placement of people in the organization as the basic structure of business life. It explicitly embraces the idea of ethics. It distinguishes that shared values hold a culture together. There is still room for that individualistic nonconformist the “entrepreneur” -but he or she is probable only insofar as there is a role (an important one) for peculiarity and innovation. The problem with the “culture” metaphor, though, is that it also tends to be too self enclosed.

A corporation is not like a remote tribe in the Trobriand Islands. A corporate culture is an indivisible part of a larger culture, at most a subculture (or a sub-subculture), a specialized organelle in an organ in an organism. Certainly, it is the tendency to see business as an inaccessible and insulated endeavor, with values diverse from those of the surrounding society that characterizes all these myths and metaphors. Business is a lot like poker and, as such, tolerates immoral behavior that would not be tolerated in the larger society.

Reference:

Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (London: Basil Blackwell, 1987)

Henry W. Bellows, “Influence of the Trading Spirit upon Social and Moral Life in America,”American Review 1 (1845), 95.

Henry Ward Beecher, Eyes and Ears (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862), 235.

Horace Bushnell, Work and Play (London: Alexander Strahan, 1864), 7.

John Randolph, “Advice to a Young Relative,” in Holmes’ Southern Fifth Reader, ed. George F. Holmes (New York: Richardson, 1867 [1834]), 324.

Samuel Hopkins, “Disinterested Benevolence,” in American Christianity: An Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960), 543.

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