Competition as a Discovery Procedure
"It would not be easy to defend macroeconomists against the charge that for 40 or 50 years they have investigated competition primarily under assumptions which, if they were actually true, would make competition completely useless and uninteresting. If anyone actually knew everything that economic theory designated as “data,” competition would indeed be a highly wasteful method of securing adjustment to these facts. Hence it is also not surprising that some authors have concluded that we can either completely renounce the market, or that its outcomes are to be considered at most a first step toward creating a social product that we can then manipulate, correct, or redistribute in any way we please. Others, who apparently have taken their notion of competition exclusively from modern textbooks, have concluded that such competition does not exist at all.
By contrast, it is useful to recall that wherever we make use of competition, this can only be justified by our not knowing the essential circumstances that determine the behavior of the competitors. In sporting events, examinations, the awarding of government contracts, or the bestowal of prizes for poems, not to mention science, it would be patently absurd to sponsor a contest if we knew in advance who the winner would be. Therefore, as the title of this lecture suggests, I wish now to consider competition systematically as a procedure for discovering facts which, if the procedure did not exist, would remain unknown or at least would not be used."
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