Cooperation comes naturally when the economy is good. With plenty of customers, low operating costs, and generous profits, businesses will feel comfortable cooperating with one another. A full motel will send travelers to a competitor down the road. Vegan diners might be directed to a vegetarian restaurant. Purchasing agents from competing manufacturers might share sources for raw materials.
In good times, cooperation helps everybody. When the motel of High Street sends a customer to the lodging on Main Street, it expects return traffic for the favor. In good economic times, the return favor materializes. The spirit of cooperation is also evident within the business, as employees graciously come to each other’s aid. A worker can focus on the product or service, because he does not need to exert wasteful energy thinking about himself. Turnover is low, and production is high. The business is able to share its profits with the employees by increasing wages and benefits.
Even in good times, businesses remain ambitious, motivated to improve profits. Competition is the nature of our species and the nature of capitalism. The natural antagonism between companies demands innovation, as each company must excel just to remain even with its competitors. Within a business, each individual must focus on his own task. Helping a co-worker is laudable up to a point. However, the spirit of sharing and mentoring cannot impede a worker from completing his own assignments.
One of the unwritten laws of employment is that a wage earner must appear to be fully cooperative, even when the work environment dictates a narrow focus on individual assignments. This two-faced approach is thoroughly taught by the educational system. No matter what action a student, or worker, plans to take, he must always appear to be following the directions of his supervisors.
When economics start to sour, cooperation suffers. Usually, a downturn is experienced by a single company. When this happens, employees focus almost all of their energies on the completion of their projects. Workers limit suggestions made to management. Criticism of policy and procedures almost ceases to exist. Everyone, both worker and manager, is afraid of making a mistake. Little progress is accomplished. The very ideas that could lift a company out its difficulties are stifled by a new culture of competitiveness. To make matters worse, when a company falls on bad times, much of its talent leaves for a more stable environment.
If the downturn widens to include a sector of the economy, such as retail sales, the motivation of both workers and managers turn destructive. It is at this moment that cooperation among all employees is most critical; and it is at this moment that almost all traces of cooperation vanish. The only hope for the individual employees in bad economic times is to increase the profitability of the company for which they work. In bad times, by definition, there is not enough demand for all the goods and services produced. This results in the creation of some losers in the business world. In some cases, all businesses will be losers; in others, some will win and others will lose. An employee’s only hope is to be working for a winner. Many of the workers for losing companies will soon be collecting unemployment insurance.
Although it should be at its highest level when a company comes under increased pressure, cooperation, in fact, deteriorates in these conditions. Management and workers are both stressed. Anxiety interferes with logical thought. Procedures become increasingly rigid, when flexibility might actually increase productivity. In a very short time, people can only think about the problems and no one can think about the solution to the problems.
Under certain circumstances, competitors might theoretically cooperate to solve common problems. Manufacturer A might find a source for component X. However, company A cannot use all the X components that the new source can produce. Under good economic conditions, Manufacturer A might share the information about the new source with Manufacturer B. However, in a bad economy, the information will be kept secret in hopes that the second manufacturer will go out of business. The problem with this approach is that Manufacturer B might be aware of a new source for a different component, Y. But this information is also not shared. So by being tightfisted, they would call it being competitive, both manufacturers will be unable to build products. The employees and management of both companies will suffer.
When the economic downturn widens and deepens, cooperation is all but impossible. Employees cannot cooperate with each other or with management. Management finds itself continuously looking for scapegoats rather than solutions. No one wants to stand out; so, no resolutions to the company’s problems are suggested. The eventual result of the fiercely competitive environment is the loss of jobs. The revenue of state and local government experience a sharp decline. Public services must be curtailed. At first, the cut in public services is just an inconvenience to some citizens. As the tax revenues continue to deteriorate, vital services are hit. Nothing escapes: not schools, nor police, fire protection, or health services.
When the economy as a whole is emotionally sick, it acts like an alcoholic. It refuses to take the steps to cure its problems and continues to act in ways that are self-destructive. Like an alcoholic, the economy must hit rock bottom. At the bottom, society is ready for a charismatic leader. That leader could be a Roosevelt or Regan. But the leader could also be a Hitler or Stalin.
The economy does not have to deteriorate to that extent. The spirit of cooperation lives on in the hearts and minds of individuals. Neither Wall Street nor Congress is the fountain head for the solution of economic distress. Neither institution can actually produce anything. The countries workers, innovators and entrepreneurs are the sources of economic growth. The country has no shortage of these resources. They need to believe in themselves and to believe in each other. The key to success is a health combination of cooperation and competition. The healthy mix is born out of hope and it banishes fear.
Although a good economy encourages cooperation and a bad economy fosters competition, a new spirit of cooperation needs to be discovered to get the economy back on its feet.
- How the State Destroys Social Cooperation (informationliberation.com)