# 5.2E: Competition

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Learning Objectives

• Explain how competition can be both a help and a hinderance for people in any particular society or group

Competition is a contest between people or groups of people for control over resources. In this definition, resources can have both literal and symbolic meaning. People can compete over tangible resources like land, food, and mates, but also over intangible resources, such as social capital. Competition is the opposite of cooperation and arises whenever two parties strive for a goal that cannot be shared.

Competition can have both beneficial and detrimental effects. Positively, competition may serve as a form of recreation or a challenge provided that it is non-hostile. On the negative side, competition can cause injury and loss to the organisms involved, and drain valuable resources and energy. Many evolutionary biologists view inter-species and intra-species competition as the driving force of adaptation, and, ultimately, of evolution. However, some biologists, most famously Richard Dawkins, prefer to think of evolution in terms of competition between single genes, which have the welfare of the organism “in mind” only insofar as that welfare furthers their own selfish drives for replication. Some Social Darwinists claim that competition also serves as a mechanism for determining the best-suited group–politically, economically, and ecologically.

Many philosophers and psychologists have identified a trait in most living organisms that can drive the particular organism to compete. This trait, unsurprisingly called “competitiveness,” is viewed as an innate biological trait that coexists along with the urge for survival. Competitiveness, or the inclination to compete, has become synonymous with aggressiveness and ambition in the English language. Just as advanced civilizations integrate aggressiveness and competitiveness into their interactions, as a way to distribute resources and adapt, most plants compete for higher spots on trees to receive more sunlight. However, Stephen Jay Gould and others have argued that as one ascends the evolutionary hierarchy, competitiveness (the survival instinct) becomes less innate and more a learned behavior.

The term also applies to econometrics. Here, it is a comparative measure of the ability and performance of a firm or sub-sector to sell and produce/supply goods and/or services in a given market. The two academic bodies of thought on the assessment of competitiveness are the Structure Conduct Performance Paradigm and the more contemporary New Empirical Industrial Organisation model. Predicting changes in the competitiveness of business sectors is becoming an integral and explicit step in public policymaking. Within capitalist economic systems, the drive of enterprises is to maintain and improve their own competitiveness.

## Key Points

• People can compete over tangible resources, such as land, food, and mates, but also over intangible resources, such as social capital.
• Many evolutionary biologists view inter-species and intra-species competition as the driving force of adaptation and, ultimately, of evolution.
• Many philosophers and psychologists have identified a trait in most living organisms that can drive the particular organism to compete.

## Key Terms

• evolution: gradual directional change, especially one leading to a more advanced or complex form; growth; development
• innate: Inborn; native; natural; as, innate vigor; innate eloquence.

5.2E: Competition is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.