Recently, a correspondent was advising me that business is about Darwinian competition.
Naturally, my mind wandered to self-described Darwinian capitalist Conrad Black, who did not fare too well in the United States’s justice system. Admittedly, Canadian journalists were inclined to give him a bad rap because of his habit of suing journalists, so I will not make him an issue.
Anyway, as a long-time business teacher for people in media, I replied as follows:
This much I know is true, so let me restate it:
Darwinism is worthless as an explanation of how prosperous economies operate, though clever analogies can be drawn to “evolution, speciation, extinction, mutation, survival of the fittest” by people with the time, inclination, and contracts for books destined for the airport kiosk.
Reality check: Darwinism is – to use Edward Banfield’s book title as a phrase – “the moral basis of a backward society”.
In a state of practical Darwinism, families, clans, and tribes form tight little groups with little interest in the public welfare. They distribute public assets among themselves. So public assets are minimal and poorly maintained, as far as the general public is concerned. For example, money is stolen at the Post Office, but “no one” is responsible for the theft. It’s untraceable.
Here is an example:
When I used to write for a road building association trade mag, I heard about a contractor who had lost a brand new bulldozer. He went on a vacation in a far away country, and guess what – he saw his own ‘dozer at work on a site – and they hadn’t even bothered to unscrew the Canadian licence plate! That’s how he knew for sure it was his. No one cared that the ‘dozer was stolen goods. He assumed, rightly or wrongly*, that it would be useless to contact the police there.
*I would think that any foot patrol officer might wonder why that service vehicle bore a Canuck licence plate. Couldn’t the owner be cited for not getting a local plate?
No wonder such a country is “less developed.” They are never going to get anywhere unless they give up practical Darwinism, and adopt codes of business ethics that owe nothing to Darwinism.
Why? Because few investors want to front large, complex businesses in such places. One never knows when the power or water will be off, due to corruption and incompetence – leaving a firm’s technical staff with an unscheduled but paid vacation.
The fundamental basis of prosperous societies is co-operation, not competition. The power is on, the water is clean, the roads are maintained, your business taxes go to something other than graft, the police target criminals (not dissidents), girls are in school (not in brothels), and if you smash up on the highway, a paramedic ambulance will arrive promptly to pick up whatever remains of you and try to snuff it back to life. That owes nothing to Darwinism, and everything to co-operation between large groups of individuals in the public interest – which helps the private interest as well, and thus promotes prosperity.
As far as I am concerned, as a business owner and business teacher, you can take Darwinism and blow it out the window. It is not what builds up a good environment for business.
Yes, of course there is competition in a favourable environment for business. But it is the favourable environment that makes competition viable. Practical Darwinism (= everyone out only for his own pack or herd) breaks down the needed environment for prosperity.
Golly, I hope someone listens .