Professor Cohen’s Philosophy on Market Competition.
Political philosopher G.A. Cohen believes that market competition is an inherently repugnant, predatory system that fosters greed and undermines community.
Cohen would prefer to move away from a market-ordered society toward a society organized like a camping trip, where people contribute to the fishing, cooking, and cleanup out of generosity and a concern for the good of the community.
Food treats, and opportunities for relaxation and recreation would be equally distributed on the basis of a principle of solidarity.
Would it be possible or desirable to organize society as Cohen wishes? Why or why not?
Whilst Mr Cohen is embarking on a journey to his collectivist wonderland; he would probably need a good book, of which I recommend Tom Palmers’ Morality of Capitalism or The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible by Ken Schoolland.
He would not remain the same after; however, I first want to debug his fallacy of market and greed.
The market does not promote greed; instead, it makes it possible for the most philanthropic and selfish of us to achieve our purposes in peace.
Although as people in the market, we are concerned about our interest, but this should not be confused with selfishness because people are interested in profits and other things like family, friends, religion, causes and even the society, as apparent in market innovations created to make work more efficient, cure others’ diseases or like Bill Gates’ charitable gestures to heal the world.
It is also a myth to think that market will undermine community because people actually cooperate on the basis of mutual benefit which makes possible the idea of a society.
Without the assurance of mutual benefit, Peter’s good would be Paul’s bad and vice versa, and they could never become associates. Yet, the market in the real sense of it enhances collaboration, even amongst those who are not known to each other, and who do not share the same religion or language.
Markets as a place of voluntary exchange of value create unions and the society is always better off for it.
Nevertheless, in a world of equal distribution of resources and collective entitlement, there exists a deterrent to aspirations; as established in lack of ownership and rights, which takes away the individual’s responsibility to his life and property. Also, in such community one’s altitude in life is automatically determined by the parents’ class. A contrast to market ordered society where the poorest can become the richest through value creation.
Learning From History
However, history’s example of Mr Cohen’s desired world clearly shows the destructive effect of collectivization.
China’s distributive idea of socialism is a case in point. In the 1970s, after realizing that collectivization was impeding development, Deng Xiaoping withdrew from collective farming and compulsory produce delivery, to embark on a liberalization program which enabled farmers to set aside part of their produce for sale at market prices.
This system became increasingly liberal, and as time went on farmers opted out of the collective to lease land from the government. This liberalization enabled 800million Chinese farmers to double their income in only six years, in a country which twenty years earlier had been hit with the worst famine in human history.
So much that about half a billion people were said to have been alleviated from poverty as the World Bank spoke of it as the biggest and fastest poverty reduction in history.
These reasons are why I hope to tell Mr Cohen that though possible, his preferred world is incongruent with Peace, Freedom and Prosperity. Thus, making it undesirable in a world where individuals instinctively pursue their own happiness.
Reference: Norberg, Johan, In Defence of Global Capitalism. Stockholm: Timbro, 2001.
P.S. This essay was submitted among others to Institute of Humane Studies‘ Summer Seminar application.