Monday, November 2, 2015

Cooperation, Competition, and Exclusion: A Question for Those Who Feel the Need to Boycott Walmart

The most important voluntary relationship among adults where I come from is marriage. We have modified the idea of marriage so it includes one-night stands and homosexual relationships as well as lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, most Westerners would still consider it the most important of relationships, far more than a man to his mother’s brother (as in many non-Western societies) or parents and children to each other.

Marriage is characterized by both competition and cooperation.

Marriage is at best cooperation: a man and a woman cooperate by serving each other to make a happy home where the members of the family feel loved and where there is enough to eat and wear and shelter from the weather. They cooperate to conceive and raise children and to have good relationships with their neighbors. Christian men and women cooperate to build up the church and bring unbelievers into the kingdom.

But it is also characterized by competition. Men compete with other men for access to a given woman. Women compete with other women for access to a certain man. But what are they competing for? The right to cooperate with that man or woman they most desire to cooperate with. They want to cooperate in this way with not just anyone, but with a certain person. A selfish man will want to cooperate with the woman he thinks will give him the maximum pleasure. The godly man will look for the woman who will maximize his the effectiveness of his work for the kingdom of God and whose effectiveness he wants to maximize.

Either way, not just any partner for cooperation will do. Both the man and the woman will exclude from cooperation everyone except the one they want to cooperate with.

We make friends with those whom we enjoy being with and who enjoy being with us. We include people who we think make our lives better, and we exclude those whose company we do not believe make our lives better. It is those whom we think will make our lives better over the long term that we invite over for meals or go to games with or take on hunting trips.

We might also invite them to help us put up a building or harvest a field or dry cacao. In the US it’s not uncommon for a man to call up some friends and say something like, “I need a hand putting up a shed. We should be able to get it up in a day. I’ll get some beer and roast a pig and we can have a big dinner with our families afterward,” and his friends will come around. Again, he will invite those he wants to invite and exclude others, and if someone he invites has prior commitments or doesn’t like the idea of pork and beer for dinner after a hard day of work, he will spend that day somewhere else.

In a similar way, customers cooperate with businesses. Businesses want money; customers want goods and services. They cooperate with each other so that each gets what he wants. And again, not just any partner for cooperation will do: a businessman will cooperate only with customers who have are willing to part with enough money to provide the business with a profit, and clients will exclude all businesses whose offerings are not of high enough quality or accessibility or are priced too high.

Businesses compete not only for customers but also for employees. Just as we invite our friends to help with projects at our homes, businesses invite “friends” to make the business succeed. The larger the business, of course, the less personal the invitation will be – larger businesses have “human resources” departments to decide whom to include in and whom to exclude from the “friendship” and thus the work accomplished through cooperation – but the idea is the same: a man who thinks he will profit from cooperating with the business offers his services, and the businessman who thinks he will profit from cooperating with that man will accept the offer.

This is how a voluntary system works. People solicit cooperation from those they want cooperation from and exclude the rest. They agree on the terms either explicitly or implicitly.

Let’s say Mr. X recruits his friends to build a shed for pork and beer on his property one day and Mr. Y asks him that day to build a shed on his property the next week. Would God consider X free to decide whether or not to build Y’s shed, and if so what he would get from Y in return? Would God allow him to decide whom to recruit to help him and under what terms? How many sheds would he have to build, or plan to build in the future, before God would want someone else determining with whom X cooperates to build sheds?

In other words, how big does a business have to be before God wants outsiders stepping in to determine whom that business must take on as clients, how much it can charge those clients, whom it must take on as employees, and how much it must pay those employees?

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