Saturday, January 3, 2015

The "Dog-Eat-Dog" Delusion

by Gary Galles

Mises Daily

January 3, 2014

When people want to add extra “oomph” to negative depictions of self-owners acting without coercion — that is, market competition under capitalism — they turn to name-calling. One of the most effective forms is describing such competition as dog-eat-dog. When that characterization is accepted, the mountain of evidence in favor of voluntary social coordination can be dismissed on the grounds that it involves a vicious and ugly process so harmful to people that it outweighs any benefits.

Unfortunately, dog-eat-dog imagery for market competition is entirely misleading. It not only misrepresents market competition as having properties that are absent in truly free arrangements, but those properties are essential characteristics of government, the usual “solution” offered to the evils of dog-eat-dog competition. Further, it frames the issue in a way that precludes most people from recognizing why the analogy fails.

To begin with, dog-eat-dog is an odd way to characterize anything. I have never seen a dog eat another dog. I don’t know anyone who has. In fact, some trace the phrase’s origin back to the Latin, canis caninam not est, or “dog does not eat dog,” which says the opposite (and makes more sense, as an animal may try to protect its feeding grounds against competing predators, but it does not eat those competitors). It is nonsensical to rely on an analogy to something that doesn’t actually happen in animal behavior as a central premise toward condemning market systems as ruthless and hard-hearted.