The Case Against Competition

Alfie Kohn is the Noam Chomsky of psychology and education. His research on competition, completed years ago, is more relevant and vital today than ever.

Kohn’s book No Contest: The Case Against Competition reviews all the available research in “psychology, sociology, biology, education, and other fields,” clearly demonstrating that our struggle to defeat each other — at work, at school, at play, and at home — turns all of us into losers:

“Contrary to the myths with which we have been raised, Kohn shows that competition is not an inevitable part of ´human nature.´ It does not motivate us to do our best (in fact, the reason our workplaces and schools are in trouble is that they value competitiveness instead of excellence.) Rather than building character, competition sabotages self-esteem and ruins relationships. It even warps recreation by turning the playing field into a battlefield.

No Contest makes a powerful case that ‘healthy competition’ is a contradiction in terms. Because any win/lose arrangement is undesirable, we will have to restructure our institutions for the benefit of ourselves, our children, and our society.”

- from the book flap, No Contest: The Case Against Competition

Having doubts? Read the book and watch this interview.

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18 Responses to The Case Against Competition

  1. Anarchy Pony March 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I bet school would have sucked a lot less.

  2. Anarchy Pony March 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I bet school would have sucked a lot less.

    • lazy_friend March 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

      This site is full of needless competition, it’s beginning to feel like school.

  3. Hadrian999 March 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    I can’t wait to see competition free kids trying to get their first job or try to be self employed

    • Kane VonDoom March 19, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      That’s where the quote about “restructuring our Institutions” comes in.

      Similar to the restructuring that will need to take place to move energy dependence from Oil/Coal to sustainables or tapping into resonant energy.

      • Hadrian999 March 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

        that wouldn’t remove necessary competition from our personal lives. you can’t cooperate with other men to get the girl you want, or to get the job/profession you want, or to gain a leadership role in which ever social clubs or organizations you are a member of.

      • Hadrian999 March 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

        that wouldn’t remove necessary competition from our personal lives. you can’t cooperate with other men to get the girl you want, or to get the job/profession you want, or to gain a leadership role in which ever social clubs or organizations you are a member of.

        • happypedro March 20, 2013 at 1:24 am #

          To say “you can’t cooperate with other men to get the girl you want” is leaving out a very important element: the girl, or woman, involved. She is also a deeply powerful factor. She may simply have no interest in one of the men, or in neither, or may want both, or or or… We also cooperate immensely even with this example. There are plenty of women that men want on a daily basis, and plenty of women that men want on a daily basis, but many people restrain from taking action against that “want” for the sake of friendship, for the sake of being a good neighbor, etc, etc. The job / profession / leadership role elements simply reflect a context we’ve constructed; which is a construction, not a necessary reality.

        • happypedro March 20, 2013 at 1:24 am #

          To say “you can’t cooperate with other men to get the girl you want” is leaving out a very important element: the girl, or woman, involved. She is also a deeply powerful factor. She may simply have no interest in one of the men, or in neither, or may want both, or or or… We also cooperate immensely even with this example. There are plenty of women that men want on a daily basis, and plenty of women that men want on a daily basis, but many people restrain from taking action against that “want” for the sake of friendship, for the sake of being a good neighbor, etc, etc. The job / profession / leadership role elements simply reflect a context we’ve constructed; which is a construction, not a necessary reality.

          • happypedro March 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

            Sorry, typo. It should read: “There are plenty of women that want men on a daily basis, and plenty of men that want women, but many…”

  4. BuzzCoastin March 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    this is actually a pretty subtle argument
    often made by monopolies like the old ATT
    it’s not that competition is bad or good
    it’s a tactic to be used in certain circumstances
    but Game Theory shows that cooperation is the best long term strategy for prosperity

    • happypedro March 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      Have you read the book and watched the whole video? His argument is exactly the opposite of what monopolies like. Monopolies generally like and push for competition because it justifies what they have; to say that, after all, they “earned” it through their competitive efforts, even if those who are best able to compete inherited most of the wealth and monopolies they possess. It’s Herbert Spencer’s twisting of Darwin’s Natural Selection into Survival Of The Fittest to justify what the power elite have and control. All the available evidence in psychology, sociology, biology, and education does not fit with your description of “it’s not that competition is good or bad”; what evidence and research can you present for your position? And “a tactic to be used in certain circumstances” is far different than having as one of the main pillars of a society, such as is in the USA, though… what exactly are those “certain circumstances” of which you speak?

      • BuzzCoastin March 19, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

        well, I don’t know where you went to B school
        but this statement
        > Monopolies generally like and push for competition because it justifies what they have
        is about as false a statement as one could make
        the history of AT&T being the best example of how monopolies kill competitors
        or the history of the TV would also be a good example

        > “it’s not that competition is good or bad”; what evidence and research can you present for your position?
        try reading game theory & try reflecting on your experiences

        > what exactly are those “certain circumstances”
        every situation is unique
        the ability to adapt to changing circumstances determines the approach
        with an aggressive but weaker competitor, compete
        with a stronger aggressive competitor, cooperate

        this adaptability is what makes one fit for survival

      • BuzzCoastin March 19, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

        well, I don’t know where you went to B school
        but this statement
        > Monopolies generally like and push for competition because it justifies what they have
        is about as false a statement as one could make
        the history of AT&T being the best example of how monopolies kill competitors
        or the history of the TV would also be a good example

        > “it’s not that competition is good or bad”; what evidence and research can you present for your position?
        try reading game theory & try reflecting on your experiences

        > what exactly are those “certain circumstances”
        every situation is unique
        the ability to adapt to changing circumstances determines the approach
        with an aggressive but weaker competitor, compete
        with a stronger aggressive competitor, cooperate

        this adaptability is what makes one fit for survival

        • happypedro March 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

          Yes, monopolies kill competitors. Agreed. By “push for” I mean propagandize. Say one thing and do another. Democracy for all is promoted, while in reality it functions too often more like a democracy for an elite few. Competition among most people for the scraps, while it’s monopolies for an elite few. As Aesop said, we hang the petty thieves and elect the big ones to public office; though I would put “elect” in quotes.

        • happypedro March 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

          Yes, monopolies kill competitors. Agreed. By “push for” I mean propagandize. Say one thing and do another. Democracy for all is promoted, while in reality it functions too often more like a democracy for an elite few. Competition among most people for the scraps, while it’s monopolies for an elite few. As Aesop said, we hang the petty thieves and elect the big ones to public office; though I would put “elect” in quotes.

        • happypedro March 20, 2013 at 1:05 am #

          Game theory has applicable functions, but humans are not rationally hermetic, nor so deterministically uniform. It’s not just about how people solve a particular game, but who the people are, which game is being played (as structures shape results), and how the game is played. And the fact that games are controlled simulations, and (in being so) may not parallel well to real life situations.

          Competition exists and can be effective. Clear-cutting a forest can be ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ for short sighted ends. But this doesn’t mean it’s a healthy way of interacting with the world in the long run, or in general. The argument is not that competition isn’t effective or won’t prove advantageous for certain ends, but that it is not a healthy way of interacting, nor as natural as we are so pervasively programmed to think it is. Person W can steal and kill to get food to eat, which I and most would argue is an unhealthy way of interacting, or Person W can work with others to make food and share in the harvest, which is a far healthier way of interacting.

          As Michael Parenti puts it: “The goal of a good society is to structure social relations and institutions so that cooperative and generous impulses are rewarded, while antisocial ones are discouraged. The problem with capitalism is that it best rewards the worst part of us: ruthless, competitive, conniving, opportunistic, acquisitive drives, giving little reward and often much punishment — or at least much handicap — to honesty, compassion, fair play, many forms of hard work, love of justice, and a concern for those in need.”

          “In almost every enterprise, government has provided business with opportunities for private gain at public expense. Government nurtures private capital accumulation through a process of subsidies, supports, and deficit spending and an increasingly inequitable tax system. From ranchers to resort owners, from brokers to bankers, from auto makers to missile makers, there prevails a welfare for the rich of such magnitude as to make us marvel at the corporate leaders’ audacity in preaching the virtues of self-reliance whenever lesser forms of public assistance threaten to reach hands other than their own.”

          “The guiding principle of ruling elites was — and still is: When change threatens to rule, then the rules are changed.”

          Which is exactly the kind of destructive behavior competition promotes.

    • Hadrian999 March 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

      some things you can’t cooperate in, some things you can.

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