Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Competition universalism: Its historical origins and actual drawbacks

Graebner Claudius, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy
Pühringer Stephan, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy

This paper discusses the actual relevance and historical origins or ‘competition universalism’. In economics, competition tends to be conceptualized as a nearly ubiquitous element of today’s economies, or, at least, used to study a wide array of social and political relations. These include competition between firms for market shares, between individuals for prestige, countries for resources, athletes for victory, or politicians for democratic influence. This trend towards ‘competition universalism’ is not by accident: it was facilitated by the growing dominance of an economic approach that places less weight on descriptive accuracy and a consideration so socio-historical specificities, but instead focuses more on the development of generally applicable and analytically tractable mathematical models. The paper links this trend towards competition universalism, thereby, to developments in the dominant epistemological orientation in economics. It first explicates the historical genesis of competition universalism, and then discusses the extent that it has reached today. This development has not been followed by all economists, however: some paradigms kept the conceptual and methodological diversity of the classical economists with regard to the topic of ‘competition’. Correspondingly, the phenomenon of competition universalism is important, but not universal in economics today.

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Keywords: competition universalism; economic and social sphere; economic imperialism; economic methodology

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