Can competition ever be fair ? Challenging the standard prejudice
Philippe DE VILLE
In this paper, we challenge the usual argument which says that competition is a fair mechanism because it ranks individuals according to their relative preferences between effort and leisure. This argument, we claim, is very insuficient as a justification of fairness in competiton, and we show that it does not stand up to scrutiny once various dynamic aspects of competition are taken into account. Once the sequential unfolding of competition is taken into account, competition turns out to be unfair even if the usual fairness argument is upheld. We distinguish between two notions of fairness, which we call U-fairness,where "UÓ stands for the "usualÓ fairness notion, and S-fairness, where "SÓ stands for the "sequentialÓ aspect of competition. The sequential unfairness of competition, we argue, comprises two usually neglected aspects connected with losses of freedom : first of all, there is an "eclipseÓ of preferences in the sense that even perfectly calculating competitors do not carry out a trade-off between effort and ranking; and second, competitive dynamics leads to single-mindedness because the constraints on the competitorsÕ choices always operate in the sense of increased competitiveness and, therefore, in the direction of an increased effort requirements. We argue (1) that competition is S-unfar even if it is U-fair, (2) that as S-unfairness increases, the ethical relevance of U-fairness itself vanishes, so that (3) by focusing as they usually do on U-fairness alone, economists neglect much deeper aspects of unfairness.
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