Collusive Competition

Frank and Cooks’ The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us first introduced me to the notion that competition can be wasteful. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has a lovely description of “competition as collusive behaviour.” Firms that slip and provide lower quality products are likely to have their customers “exit” their relationship for a competitor. However, if all firms are of equally low quality, cell phones come to mind, then (p. 26):

Competition in this situation is a considerable convenience to the manufacturers because ti keeps consumers from complaining; it diverts their energy to the hunting for the inexistent improved products that might possibly have been turned out by the competition. Under these circumstances, the manufacturers have a common interest in the maintenance rather than the abridgement of competition – and may conceivable resort to collusive behaviour to that end.

Furthermore, he notes that when quality declines, its those that care most about quality that are most likely to choose the exit option if its easy relative to voicing their concern and causing management change. Consequently, the inefficient firm stumbles on (or public institution such as schools or transportation), not able to expire but unable to reform itself.

Ported/Archived Responses

andreas on 2003-10-26

Senor Reagle,

I remember those first flakes that fell in cambridge. It was only a few days after the most delicious fall day I have ever experienced, then Kapow! Winter.

Some recent things that might be of interest:  from my recent work with the Consultant monkeys:

PART-ICIPANT ROLE REMINDER (these are a few of my personal work processes, the rest are on the link above:scroll down the page)

1. We are less rewarded for our involvement in a meeting when we assume that our role has been more central to its processes than when we are able to question its value to other participants.

2. We degrade and pollute the meeting environment more when we assume that any negative impacts of our initiatives on other participants are of little consequence than when we have doubts concerning the ability of the meeting to deal with them.

3. We exhibit a greater degree of ignorance in a meeting when we assume the adequacy of the knowledge we demonstrate than when we question its validity from the perspectives of other participants.

4. Our contributions are less nourishing and enlivening to other participants when we assume that they are naturally fruitful than when we question their fruitfulness to others.

The other is on the trouble of forming transdicisciplinary conferences (I think your field might have similar issues)


The above approach makes deliberate structural use of the features of conventional dialogue which normally destroy any possibility of transdisciplinarity. In effect it uses dyadic polarization as a structural element basic to the emergence of a higher order of consensus. From this perspective, lower order consensus, like simple harmony in music, is an obstacle to the emergence of higher orders of consensus that embody various forms of dissonance characteristic of the non-ideal interactions of real world dialogue. The emphasis is on the harmonies that it is possible to create from the apparent imperfections associated with a multiplicity of polarized dialogues.

Polarization and disagreement are thus vital symbols of conceptual diversity. But they are only valuable if they can be integrated into a transcendent structure which respects the conceptual dilemmas that they represent. Polyhedral structures provide an important point of departure in any such exploration.

On the practical matter of relating such conceptual links between meeting themes to the actual communication and feedback processes between groups discussing such themes, a pragmatic approach is essential. Whilst it could be relatively easy to organize communication protocols in e- mail systems in the light of such variable polyhedral geometries, arranging corresponding communication between theme rooms in a conference centre is another matter. In the latter case it is useful to organize any communication or monitoring experiments in parallel with thematic discussions so that in the event of their failure (as an experimental possibility) the disruptive effect on the thematic discussions is minimal. However it is also necessary to ensure that discussion participants do not neglect the challenge of experimental breakthroughs in faciliting the emergence of transdisciplinary dialogue – otherwise the meeting as a whole will decay into a relatively uninteresting pattern of inter-disciplinary exchanges. Unfortunately this may meet the expectations of many participants habituated to this mode.

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