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Markets Turn Competition into Cooperation

The New York Times had a story recently complaining that competition between charter schools and traditional public schools prevented both from cooperating. Apparently, the NYT’s definition of “cooperation” looks a lot more like campfire kumbayah and a lot less like iron sharpens iron.

[pq]There’s solid evidence that welcoming setbacks helps people achieve their highest potential.[/pq]

Traditional public schools are pretty comfortable because they have what few entities in the United States do: a guaranteed customer base. In other words, even if they do a terrible job at education, they still get every K-12 student within their attendance zone whose family doesn’t have the money to pay for private school on top of education taxes. Charter schools are also public schools, but they are startup, independent schools, and only get the students they convince to attend. So when they enter a state or city, as in New York City, they inevitably open up a competition for students between them and the nearby traditional public schools.

Now, anyone who has ever lost (as I have) many debate rounds or soccer games or anything else, knows losing stings. But unless you want to be a permanent loser, you try to use the loss to propel future success. There’s actually solid evidence that welcoming setbacks helps people achieve their highest potential. In other words, competition is cooperation: It helps everyone achieve his or her best.

What actually creates conflict rather than spontaneous cooperation is the opposite of free enterprise: government central planning. Here’s a good description:

What is the relationship between competition and cooperation? Competition is what arises when people are free to choose with whom to cooperate. Sam wants shoes. Manny, Moe, and Jack sell shoes. Each wants to cooperate with Sam. So each strives to win his patronage by offering higher quality, lower prices, a better selection, or some combination of these. That the sellers expect to gain from the cooperation is no valid objection. Parties to cooperative efforts always expect to gain somehow.

Manny, Moe, and Jack could cooperate to sell shoes together, and under some circumstances they may do so. But capitalism’s critics would object to that also. Apparently only cooperation thought up by academics and forcibly imposed by politicians is appropriate.

Thus freedom plus cooperation equals competition. Those who would banish competition would also have to banish free cooperation. All that would be left would be forced cooperation, with the state dictating the terms. Compulsory cooperation is what went on in the gulag and concentration camp. In fact, there’s nothing cooperative about it at all. It’s just compulsion.