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The Ethics of Competition

How a Competitive Society is Good for All

Christoph Lütge

The concept of competition is frequently regarded with ambivalence. While its champions wholeheartedly endorse it for reasons of efficiency, critics believe competition undermines ethics. They denounce competitive thinking, call for modesty in profit-making, and rail against economisation. However, Christoph Lütge argues convincingly that intensified competition can work in favour of ethical goals, and that many criticisms of competition stem from an inadequate understanding of how modern societies and economies function. The author illustrates his view with examples from ecology, healthcare and education, and concludes with a call for more entrepreneurial spirit.
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Christoph Lütge

Competition is a more complicated concept than it appears to be. This chapter distinguishes competition from related concepts (such as struggle or contest). It explores different types of competition, such as chivalrous and socialist competition, and gives room to critics of capitalism.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter explains why competition is useful from an ethical standpoint and for ethical goals. It refers, first, to classical philosophers such as Hume and Kant as well as to Bertrand Russell and John Rawls. Second, the ethical side of arguments from prominent economists such as Friedrich August von Hayek and William Baumol is explored, and examples from real-world economies are given. Finally, two literary authors’ views on competition and ethics are explored: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter identifies zero-sum thinking as the primary thought behind the rejection of competition. It traces this thinking throughout the Bible, history, and philosophy, from Martin Luther to Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. It contrasts these views with Adam Smith’s conception of bourgeois virtues. The chapter also addresses cultural differences in attitudes towards competition and cites experimental findings.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter focuses on how increased competition in ecology does not in fact harm the environment, but can bring about ethical improvements. Zero growth or degrowth are not necessarily ethically and ecologically positive. Examples from China and other contexts are given.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter deals with the effects of competition in the education sector. Not every form of competition is ethically valuable. It depends on the actors we allow to compete and in what way. Particular reference is made to changes in the German system of education.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter is dedicated to the question whether increased competition in the fields of healthcare and nursing can lead to ethical improvements. I argue that it is complicated but feasible to set adequate rules for competition to work in an ethical way. Reference is made to the comparison of health sector reforms in different countries. Several seemingly ethical arguments why competition should not enter the health sector are rebutted.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter discusses the application of the book’s core ideas on competition to the political sphere. Election thresholds and online elections are discussed, as well as ethical standards for competition in the political arena.

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Christoph Lütge

This chapter looks at the way in which we deal with ideas of competition in the private sphere. My concern here is with the mechanisms anchored in our everyday thinking that leads us to repeatedly reject competition and other economic processes. The chapter ends with a call for more entrepreneurship on all levels of society.

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Christoph Lütge

The conclusion recalls the major themes of the book about ethics and competition. It highlights that a major future area of application will be the ethics of digital technologies.