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Competition: The Birth of a New Science


Competition: The Birth of a New Science

Author:James Case
Release Date:2007
Publisher:Hill and Wang
Genre:Science & Nature

By Darcelle Bleau | Posted 10/10/2007

In the preface to Competition: The Birth of a New Science, author James Case suggests a number of goals for his book. He hopes that it will begin a dialogue about the "science of competition," which will eventually lead to the establishment of academic departments of that name. He intends it as a review of "the nature and sources of man's existing knowledge of competition"--topics ranging from the creation and victory of IBM's chess-playing computer Deep Blue to the mating and food-gathering behaviors of animals. Through new discussions of market-related competition, he aims to debunk orthodox economic theory as it has developed since Adam Smith's 1776 The Wealth of Nations. Finally, he "hopes to encourage at least a few readers to join the growing chorus of agitators for open and public debate between orthodox and heterodox economists." Case mentions this last goal causally, and yet it is both the most significant objective of the book and the one he most successfully achieves.

In particular, Case values the participation of experienced natural scientists, who normally shun economic discussions because economics is not rooted in experiment. Biologists, chemists, physicists--these men and women would not publish theories that they could not test and prove, much less use them to drive public policy. Why have economists gotten away with theory-driven propositions for so long? Case wonders. How can we bring about future changes to this unnatural trend?

Case suggests two primary ways: technologically and sociologically. His first solution is computer modeling, and he begins to build this argument in his examination of Deep Blue. In later chapters, it's clear that the development of a "science of competition" rests on economists' ability to generate and run programs that challenge or confirm predictions about consumer and market behavior. In the 21st century, as never before, technology offers methods for revealing the strengths and weaknesses of orthodox economic theory, and Case believes that economists must take advantage of them. By so doing, they will improve their standing with natural scientists and open discussions regarding future collaboration in decision sciences.

Open debate is important across the sciences, but it is crucial among economists themselves. Currently, few university economics departments offer courses in nontraditional economic theories. Most government decision-makers are deaf to all arguments that fall outside of orthodox economic thought. Heterodox approaches to economic problems are discussed "underground"--among members of the Association for Heterodox Economics, for example, and the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics. In these organizations, thoughts and theories regarding new approaches to economic practice are developed and discussed, but they have little power to influence institutional, societal, or global change. By gathering together, economists who support the development of heterodox theories and natural scientists can promote and publicize new ways of thinking about competition. This is Case's hope for the future. And Competition is a guidebook and a plea.

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