If there is one word that capitalists believe exemplifies their system of market economics, it’s the word “competition.” Competition, they believe, is the driving force of progress, rewarding those who adapt to market forces and weeding out those who don’t. The ultimate goal, we are told, is the better and more efficient fulfillment of the needs of consumers, and a society where economics is coupled to the best interests of everyone involved.
This is, of course, a fantasy, like all neo-liberalist just-so stories or rationalizations. “Progress,” of whatever flavour one preferes, can exist in any economic system. And competition in a profit system does not aim to fulfill the needs of consumer as much as maximize profit-making, no matter what the source (honest exchange, deception, and outright theft by fraud or legislation, and most of the time all of these mixed together).
In any State Capitalist system, competition is necessarily restricted as the power elite bands together to use legislation to pursue its own class interests (multinationals crushing small corporations, small corporations crushing local businesses, and businesses in general fighting against consumer interests). In fact, this is the primary objective of most economic legislation and regulation, and of some other laws and rules as well.
As a general principle, competition should be seen as merely one alternative in a triad: exchange, rule-making and force. Making rules that apply to all corporate hierarchies in a certain domain can nullify effects of generalized exchange that are undesirable to the leaders of those hierarchies (either by using permissions which put one on a higher footing, like eminent domain, or by using restrictions which hurt smaller businesses in a greater proportion, like minimum wage laws). And force as an alternative to exchange should be pretty obvious (why sell products to customers when you can just steal their money or threaten to steal their money if they don’t give it away?), especially since it is the operating principle of government.
I am not “against competition,” and neither should any socialist. Some level of competition is necessary and desirable. In fact, competition will always exist regardless of the economic system one exists within. In libertarian communism, people who produce objects (not products, since a product is by definition desired) that no one wants would be out-competed by people with valid products. They may deny that this is a form of competition, but it’s pretty clear that it is.
Competition, therefore, is not the crux of the problem. The crux of the problem is profit-seeking and power-seeking. Without these elements, competition ensures that the workers act in the direction of general welfare (the so-called “invisible hand”). But when they are not removed, they ensure that competition steers economic activity towards those avenues which bring the most money and power in, regardless of them being peaceful or coercive, honest or dishonest. And the bigger the economic agents, or the bigger the outside sources of money and power, the less incentive they have to be peaceful and honest.
Some people may say that competition necessarily implies insecure jobs and people being under fire. The simple fact of the matter is, no one naturally wants an insecure job. When they are threatened by lack of subsidies or market conditions, workers in socialist businesses prefer to lower their own wages rather than fire people. One may question the wisdom of such a policy, but none can question its fairness.
There’s no doubt that in a socialist economy there would still be competition on prices (although not nearly to the ridiculous extent that we see today) and competition on quality (all other things being equal, better quality products attracting more demand). But with sound Anarchist economic principles, the benefits of competition can be harnessed without dragging in the destructive effects.