Competition (J. K. Ingalls)
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This is the term used to signify that inhuman struggle for the mastery, which characterizes all grades of business, under existing social conditions. The moderate and honest man finds everywhere his place forestalled by those more cunning or expert than himself. And unless he forgets his sickly sentimentality, as the world would call a scrupulous regard for right, he stands no chance of success, but must pass through life in obscurity, if not in actual want.
It is often said, in justification of the opportunities for monopoly, which our present business arrangements afford, that it is an encouragement to enterprise; and, that without such encouragement, all men would become drones and idlers. This, however, is an exceedingly superficial view of the question. The unbounded license which is given to Avarice, encourages, it may be granted, the spirit for accumulation which is naturally all too strong for the happiness of the individual or society. But in proportion as it stimulates the strong it disheartens the weak, and begets in them feelings of dependence and servility, entirely incompatible with a condition of freedom; for although a man may rise from the lowest to the highest position in life, yet every step of the upward progress is made over the forms of his fellows. His elevation is only attained by trampling on the hopes and liberties of those who are his equals in every quality except the avaricious and ambitious spirit which craves distinction at whatever sacrifice.
If he commences his career as a mechanic, and is expert, or remarkably economical, he is prompted on by his own success to greater exertions and greater economy. So far as he is concerned, it may be admitted that industry and frugality are encouraged; but then what is the effect on those with whom he has so successfully competed? His indefatigable industry, by which he has accumulated more than they, or his superior expertness has diminished, at the same time, the rate of wages, which was already small, and the chances of employment, which were already precarious, so that in the very struggle to rise, he who needed no stimulus has rendered their condition more hopeless who only needed encouragement And in every transition through which this millionaire of the people has passed, from the mechanic's bench, through the counting house, to the great landlord manorship or money lord's independence, he has only succeeded by sinking those immediately on the same level with himself, and immersing still deeper all below his plane of wealth.
There is no such thing as drawing a distinction between the rich and the poor, the oppressors and oppressed. Perhaps the wealthiest person in the world and the poorest, if we knew who they were, might be pointed at as the one who oppressed others but was not himself oppressed, and the one who only bore oppression from others but was himself guilty of oppressing none. But this is not supposeable. Through every grade of existence this inhuman competition is infused, so that none are too high or too low to be free from Us influence or its exercise. However rich or poor, noble or ignoble the employment, we shall find a competitor in the field; and in the place of encouragement, unless we are able to excel in any case, we shall find discouragement. The miser, even, finds competition, and the poor beggar sees every prospect of charity monopolized.
The tendency of all this is to weaken the incitements to industry and frugality, in all who lack their due development, while it gives unnatural excitement and impetus to those morbidly active or selfish natures, which discover in life no higher aim than to hoard together, from the grasp of others, the blessings of a bounteous Providence. Let it be distinctly understood what class are stimulated by this system. If you are more expert than your companion, why do you ask a conventional advantage? If you find on experiment that you can carry sixty pounds to his forty, for this advantage which you naturally possess, why should he be required to carry his share, and in addition a portion, or all of your own. according as your diminishing, and his increasing load shall give you the advantage over him! Yet this, the liberty of monopolizing the opportunities for labor and life, bestows unlimited sway on the shrewd and powerful, over the weak and unsuspecting. How long shall so unrighteous and unchristian a privilege remain a disgrace to a people professing regard for freedom, or reverence for the teachings of morality?
Let us ask ourselves, who it is that need encouragement, the grasping and ambitions, or the honest and unassuming, and whether it is better to grant facilities to honesty or to fraud, to the benevolent and peaceful, or to the selfish and encroaching, to the lover of gold and arbitrary power, or to the lover of man of righteousness and of truth.
- Joshua King Ingalls, “Competition,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher 2, no. 16 (August 16, 1848): 249-250.