Markets are Nice

While I'm doing simple caveman economics, I want to make a very simple point about market competition that I find useful to keep in mind. The fact that markets are “competitive” confuses a lot of people into thinking markets involve some sort of dog-eat-dog zero sum bloodsport. But the competition is competition for the ability to cooperate with other folks in the market. When I cut my prices to undersell the other guy, what I'm doing is trying to give the consumer the most attractive terms of cooperation. In the market, people are clamoring to cooperate with you! They're trying to make you even better off than the other guys who are also trying to make you better. (Think of those Lending Tree commercials where bankers are in your living room falling over each other to give you the lowest interest rate.) If you think of market competition as competitive cooperation, the market will start to look like this incredible system of distributed niceness. So when you buy something today, be sure to smile.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

5 thoughts

  1. tmana,
    ‘As far as I can tell, Ross thinks a better society will arise out of traditional families and traditional gender roles, and that government should encourage both. I prefer Will’s suggestion, but let’s not pretend they’re the same thing.’
    They aren’t the same but they aren’t in conflict. From one Mom and 20 – 40 hours in day care to Mom and Dad and 20 – 40 hours in day care sounds like an improvement for both Russ and Will. And I really don’t think Russ would have an issue with a full time Mom in a two parent family taking 20 hours a week by placing the kid[s] in daycare.
    But I think Will is wrong. There is no big cultural split because there isn’t a lot of opposition to middle class stay at home Mom’s utilizing day care. It is the standard. It doesn’t happen more because it is a luxury good.

  2. What Douthat is doing here, I think, is suggesting that we “stigmatize serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors” as the very gentlest possible way to suggest the value of traditional social norms to an audience of socially liberal New York Times readers who bristle at the idea of almost any stigmatization of a type of sexual activity. We social liberals, to be honest, can’t even seriously entertain the kind of assumptions that lead to common conservative positions — that promiscuity should be discouraged (sometimes by the state), heterosexual marriage encouraged (sometimes by the state), and gay marriage never legalized. We’re too deeply steeped in individualism; we want Uncle Sam out of the bedroom.
    So, before setting off all our red flags, Douthat asks gently, “But aren’t there some people whose sexual activities harm society? What about those serial baby-daddies?” If it’s hard to cast women and gays as villains, what about, for starters, promiscuous straight men?
    It’s an interesting direction to go, and I’m surprised social conservatives haven’t picked up on it earlier. Because once you divorce it from sexism and homophobia, the idea that there’s a public interest in promoting certain kinds of private behavior becomes much more difficult to reject. And if you do reject it, you also have to throw out a lot of incentives for private behavior that liberals would like the government to enforce.

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