Throughout history competition has created bitter tension between social classes. Competition has occurred in every social structure that has existed to this day. Social structure has been the determining factor of competition: in essence the poorer classes have always tried to compete with the wealthier classes to seize their wealth and power; the greater the economical gap between the two opposing classes the fiercer the competition between them. Two highly esteemed and different people, Karl Marx and Andrew Carnegie, developed their own ideologies to resolve and ease class tension, that is, whether changes should be imposed on the structure and role of social classes.
Another writer, Sam Keen illustrates the effect of competition in the extreme. Within their opposing and controversial views, there lies the more efficient social-economic resolution: a modified version of Carnegie’s argument, despite the fact that it has some imperfections. The answer is determined by the acknowledgment by the powerful and the wealthy of certain responsibilities to the poorer classes.
Each author feels that the competition within a capitalist society has definite effects on social structure but disagree as to what this effect is.
Competition exists in many forms and in our case it exists in the form of class struggles. The upper class, known as the bourgeois, possess wealth and power over the lower class, known as the proletariats, that consists of the working class in society. The battles between these two classes have ranged from verbal fighting to stages of bedlam and bloodshed. Financial stability allows the wealthy to fulfill their desires and needs by exploiting the working class to a great degree. In response, the working class engages in competing with the wealthy to overcome their control and establish itself as the ruling class. Unfortunately, relatively few people in the poor class ever achieve this goal, thereby showing the level of difficulty of overcoming a higher class authority. To this day true equality has not been established; instead some truce has developed, stemming from their dependency on each other.
A very honorable and well-known socialist, Karl Marx, argued that capital should be socially and not privately owned. He analyzed the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeois and claimed that the constant battle between them, the never ending subordination of the proletariat, has only established new classes, new conditions of oppression, and new forms of struggle in place of the old. Marx believed that the bourgeois, the large middle class of merchants who rule society, have corrupted all the old values of society and turned them into monetary ones. By this he is taking the intellectuals and artists of society, the honorable personnel (those respected scientists and artists who contribute to society), and portrays how the bourgeois made them part of their workforce, thereby, removing all of their value in society.
Marx is rather angry that free competition between the bourgeois has created tension in society, and moreover, has removed the natural values of society and replaced them with competitive monetary ones. He believes that with the growing class of the proletariat, eventually they will all unite and overthrow the bourgeois in an effort to revolutionize society and create unified distribution of wealth that removes all conflicts and battles between the classes. Removing competition will enable society to flourish at a constant rate and revive the humanistic values of society. Unfortunately, such an economic system cannot exist because there will always be people trying to garner more power and authority, and thereby aggregate large wealth that will throw off Marx’s Utopian society.
In relation to the pursuit of wealth and control, society’s structure is probably determined by the demands of society. According to Sam Keen, people are raised accordingly to the demands of their present society. If society demands a competitive economy then the mindset of the child will be that of a competitive one. However, if society is more complacent then people will be raised with a calm outlook on society without competition. Institutions (schools and industry) try to instill rigid beliefs according to society’s demands. Since society has been based on the demand of goods it caused competition amongst the people that barter for these goods, thereby forming a competitive economy. Keen puts the white collared workers in a favorable position as opposed to the blue collar workers. Here again, the white collared employers lead society and have authority and control over the blue collared workers, the employees. He argues that the white collared workers are always highly regarded, but the blue collared workers, regardless of their income, will always be considered poor. In Keen’s point of view, the competitive economy is the way society inevitably will formulate itself. The problem is that Keen reflects on competition that is taken to the extreme. Competition in practice however, is not necessarily taken to this drastic extreme. In fact, analysis of extreme competition shows that it is not beneficial, but a moderate account of a competitive society is rather useful.
Another perspective comes from one of the great industrialists, Andrew Carnegie, who attempted to explain and give reasons for the difference within the classes in a way that brought out the dependency of each class on the other and the responsibilities that each must fulfill. Carnegie considered the biggest problem to be the proper distribution of wealth. He knew very well from his own experience of social mobility that it was every American’s dream. However, it was far from an easily achievable dream, which led him to develop a theory of social reliance, in which one class relies on the other. Theoretically, he saw the Law of Competition in the working world and realized that the wealthy business owners were the true benefactors to society. That competition brings out the true leaders of society, who become the wealthy business owners. With the concentration of business, industrial and commercial interests, in the hands of a few, Carnegie depicted these intelligent leaders as the rare fruit of society.
Carnegie clearly states, “That this talent for organization and management is rare amongst men is proved by the fact that it invariably secures enormous rewards for its possessor, no matter where or under what laws or conditions.”(The Gospel of Wealth0 p.250) Here Carnegie is referring to the talent that allows those few men to organize and manage large corporations that inevitably provide large profits for them. Running a corporation has to endow profit otherwise it would be shut down, according to Carnegie who claims that there is no middle ground, only either/or. The most intelligent and capable men develop these corporations and bring in large sums of profit that is rightfully theirs, according to Carnegie. Since the overbearing level of competition prevents the many from founding their own corporations, the ones that succeed are undoubtedly entitled to this great wealth that comes with it.
However, Carnegie believed that this wealth comes with its own responsibilities which the rightful possessor of the wealth must acknowledge. These responsibilities include contributing beneficial things to the public such as educational institutions that will allow progress to occur, also, beautification and entertainment centers that the average individual cannot afford to contribute. However, giving back to the public doesn’t necessarily contribute to everyone. It will be limited to the ones that afford to find time to use these facilities since the less fortunate people who have to work long hours will not be able to use them due to time constrictions.
As a Great Industrialist who possessed enormous wealth, Carnegie was in a financial position that allowed him to take part in philanthropic events. He believed that the rich business owners possessed this wealth not only for their own use but for the benefit of society as a whole. Carnegie donated a large portion of his earnings to building libraries, parks, museums, music halls, and other public resources. By doing so he was a living example to his theory: that the Law of Competition was only beneficial to society. He explained that the inferior working class was not intelligent enough to benefit society. He did not believe in random charity giving, instead he felt that society should help those that will help themselves, people who need a push forward to start them again.
He also felt that the people who were worthy of assistance, seldom required it. With these truths taken into account, society could truly benefit from the wealthy and powerful industrialists. Carnegie embodied the wealthy individual as becoming “the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they could do for themselves”; this is pointing out the benefit of competition as a positive influence on society. By his statement Carnegie illustrates the superiority of the wealthy class and the beneficence that it gives to the poor class of society. Since the poor class is not capable of managing and distributing wealth in society, the affluent must take upon themselves the responsibility of giving back to the community by using their superior qualities and benefiting society to the best of their ability. In this social-economic structure, Carnegie builds his system of two separate classes that compete against each other, yet are codependent for the benefit of one another.
With all the viewpoints taken into account we can see that competition has allowed the better suited people to run the economy. Society has developed a codependence on the wealthy and poor classes. Together, the working class, the proletariat, relies on its employers, the bourgeois to provide it with an immediate income to support itself; the employers benefit from the proletariat’s work, accumulate great wealth and take the responsibility upon them to act as the trustees of the proletariat and give back to them via the most efficient public donations. By fulfilling each class’s responsibilities to each other, society will benefit as a whole and progress will occur for everyone. Marx’s utopian society could not exist due to the greediness of people that would try to seize power, which would create competition. Keen has taken the view of competition in the extreme which is rather unrealistic. Allowing a moderate level of competition will have a positive effect on society. Like Carnegie, the few wealthy should possess great resources that enable them to become the trustees and benefit society in the aforementioned ways that an average individual cannot. Although giving back to society is partially ineffective as previously noted, it is a more balanced system of Carnegie’s competitive social structure.
Allegorically speaking, the two competitive classes, the proletariat and the bourgeois, can be viewed as a supersaturated solution. A solvent being the wealthy employers, the solute being the enormous working class and the undissolved particles lying on the bottom: the unemployed. Hypothetically, the wealthy class possesses total control over its solute, meaning how much it will be dissolved.