Competition vs cheating — the challenge of checking the rise of oligarchy

David Brin
3 min readDec 11, 2018

I remain boggled by the way our so-called economic/political narratives consistently ignore obvious things.

1. Flat-fair-open competition is the greatest creative force in the universe. Sound pretty “libertarian”? Ah, but for all of time, across all societies in history, any possibility of truly flat-fair-open competition was ruined by a single destructive force… prevalent cheating. The mighty always seek to use their wealth and power to cheat — in order to prevent competition arising from below, thus preserving their sons’ privilege to control other peoples’ daughters and sons — and to expand their hold on land and power.

Across history this always wrecked the promise of true competition. Always.

2. The enlightenment found a tentative way out of this trap. It gradually improved five great competitive arenas — markets, democracy, science, justice courts and sports. All of these arenas are tightly regulated — precisely to prevent inevitable cheating. And, yet cheaters continue to innovate and invent new ways to cheat! Hence a need for continuously revised or new regulations. Imagine a sporting league without rules or referees, but with massive money rewards at stake.

One need only watch the movie, Rollerball to witness the dire consequences of a game with no rules enforced.

3. Liberals tend to frown at the word “competition.” Conservatives snarl at “regulation.” When it is only Regulated Competition that ever worked! Yes, over-regulation can cloy or become captured by those who would abuse the system. But look deeper: who banished the captured regulatory agencies such as the ICC and CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) and broke up AT&T? Democrats! In general they desire Regulated Competition and flat-fair-open markets to work. If ever the GOP did, those days are long gone.

4. Meanwhile Libertarians have completely abandoned the “c-word” that should be their center… “competition” in favor of “property.” Ignore that it’s Democrats who are seeking to end the Drug War, who are seeking to keep the law out of your bedrooms. It’s Democrats under whom entrepreneurialism always does better. That’s always. Yet, ask any libertarian and he won’t care about any of that. The goal of Steve Forbes and Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers is to have libertarians hold their noses and vote Republican — to convince them that “the GOP is ‘slightly less bad”. And that’s enough.

Keep ignoring 6000 years of history, and trust that the fast-rising conniving cabals of oligarchs won’t re-impose that great enemy of freedom — feudalism. Oligarchs are still blocked from total power by fact folks and civil servants… one reason why we’ve witnessed an outpouring of hatred on those dedicated nerds!

Oh, those five great competitive arenas, markets, democracy, science, courts and sports? They all thrive to exactly the extent that all participants can clearly see what’s going on. Transparency.

All five wither and die amid clots and cancerous clouds of secrecy.

Thus, we witness ongoing chants of “Fake News” and rants of rage against journalists and fact checkers — whose job it is to shine light on the elites who would conspire in the dark.



David Brin

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.