Reading time: 9 min.
The fight for survival shaped the deepest corners of our brains through a long history of evolution. Many species need to eat other species, and individuals of the same species need to compete in order to get food, escape from danger and reproduce. Even if the Homo sapiens species developed agriculture, science, technology and complex political societies based on freedom, rationality, human rights, etc., the deep motivations of humans are not necessarily that different from those of the first humans or any other species like different kinds of oxen, dogs or monkeys. If we observe any group of oxen, monkeys or fowls for example, we will notice that they spend the majority of their time looking for food, eating or sleeping. Within this quest for food, we can always observe a certain kind of competition. It always happens that a duck steals the food of another, that a bull pushes another with his horns to get the food for himself. Even if you give some food to domesticated animals which are perfectly used to receive a largely abundant amount of food every day, you will still notice that there will still be a competition, where some try to eat first or the best kind of food first. It is extremely hard to come to the point and say: “we have enough food for everybody, so let’s relax and live in peace”. First of all, it seems to go against how we are “programmed” as beings; and second, it is not necessarily a good idea to suppress such a fight or such a competition from the life of individuals. We can also wonder if it is even possible to suppress it?
As the animals we described spend their time looking for food, eating and sleeping, humans, as one among those several animals, do exactly the same: looking for food we call it “work”, eating we call it “consumption”, and sleeping is still sleeping. Of course there are many other things that animals do; the birds sing, the dogs bark, the spiders spin webs, and humans do a lot of other things. Most of the things we do, like animals, could be put into those categories of either looking for food (work), eating food (consumption), or sleeping. At every second of the day, if you stop and ask yourself what are you doing, you will find out that most of the time, it is either an activity related to work (to make money or to maintain or transform your life), or related to consumption (reading a book, watching TV, or thinking about what you will buy on the market). Apart from sleeping, if we spend so much time (almost our entire life) involved into work or consumption, like so many other animals, it is because we are permanently in competition.
The economic agent is in competition with others to find a job and then within his job to earn more money. If this agent is not having a wage from a company, then he is self-employed or he builds his own company to offer a product or service in return for money. It is almost never the case that you will see an entrepreneur saying: “oh I make enough money, and I will just hire some people more and retire to go to have vacation on the beach!”. At the opposite, more often, the wealthy businessmen are those who work even more not only to maintain their wealth, but also because they are always in fierce competition with so many other economic entities. Companies owners can always be threatened to lose a market because of new competitors, changes in the economic or technological environment, etc. That is why the companies are always into an intense competition trying to offer a better product, or a better price, or try to convince the consumers through advertisements and many other communication methods that their product or service is better than others.
This principle of free competition in the modern economies has for sure a big effect on the increase of innovation and quality of the products and services, because the workers (employees and entrepreneurs) are into a perpetual race to be able to produce more, better and cheaper, to be able to sell more and to finally earn more money. On the level of those main economic actors, i.e. workers and companies, competition can explain why there is always this pressure and tensions on work duration, wages, retirement age, productivity, etc. It is because the rule is simple: it is never enough and everybody would like to have more. This is why we are extremely far from the situation imagined by some philosophers and economists of earlier centuries who thought that new techniques and technologies will lead humanity to the times of leisure. This is not the case because the economic system is not made to satisfy our needs in terms of services and products that we really want and would like to work to get, but it is rather built to satisfy the desire for always-more money. Therefore, there are many people who became totally alienated during the biggest part of their time dedicated to work. They don’t know why are they working exactly, why do they have to work more, quicker, better, putting so much energy into producing something that they don’t understand and they don’t want, or they don’t even know what is it useful for. They are just caught into this system where the ultimate goal is to make more money. And because they also need that money to survive, they get burned out, depressed, reduced to a state of general slavery.
If we come to the level of governments, we find out that they are themselves driven like companies in competition one with the other. A government necessarily needs to make a lot of money to be able to invest into infrastructure and social services. The more money it can make, the more powerful it will be among the international community of nations. International trade is of course very useful to exchange products like in a barter economy. But it is in the interest of every country to export more than the others and to attract more investments than the others in order to be richer. If the main goal of the government is to gather more and more wealth, then it has to work hand in hand with the biggest economic agents to achieve that goal. That is why we see almost everywhere the governments becoming more and more corrupted by pursuing wealth without any other vision of what to do with it on the long term, or how can it be useful for the people. Again, competition between nations made politicians disconnected from their real task, and behaving more like businessmen seeking wealth as the ultimate goal for the nation. Even if many of them try in the expression of their thoughts and political programs to improve the life of their people, they do not say (probably because they do not know) what does it mean exactly to improve the life of the people, except with having more money, which means at the end to increase the sum of global time dedicated to work and consumption. If in order to compete, every nation’s population works more and consumes more (and that is exactly what every country is trying to do), can we really say that we are improving the life of the people? While there is a very quick race for productivity and innovation, and while the international markets are flooded with so many goods and containers, it is extremely strange to notice how free circulation of goods came with more barriers for humans, and how the overwhelming abundance for some people came with an astonishing poverty for some others. And because this logic of international competition produces an incredibly big arsenal of more and more sophisticated weapons, no country and no politician can now proclaim that they want to withdraw from this competition game, close their borders and declare that they would like to live on their own. It is almost impossible because they already depend on the international trade for a long time and they are not able to live outside of this system anymore. Every political leader has to make his country stronger, and for that purpose, has to make the people work more, produce more and export more.