Much of the argument over whether human society is primarily cooperative or competitive in nature focuses on governmental and economic activity. The functionalists see a system where the division of labor causes each to cooperate with others and thereby increase the wealth of all. They see government as a device to coordinate a united effort t~-get those things judged important by consensus (agreement) of the community. The conflict theorist sees this consensus as artificial rather than real and views both government and economic activity as battlegrounds on which individuals and groups contend with each other for a privileged position. , Consensus is (sometimes) attained through the process of negotiation, argument, and compromise that we call politics. One noted political scientist has defined politics as the study of "who gets what, when and how" [Lasswell, 1958]. The justification for this statement is that government affects the income of people Unequal ways. Expenditures always involve both ,taxes and benefits. Taxes usually weigh more heavily on some than on others. Laws usually make it easier for some people to make money and more difficult for others. Thus, politics is a constant battle of groups and individuals to gain benefits and avoid losses. Sometimes the battle is waged through elections and legislative processes, and sometimes it involves the force  of police and armies. In any event, the conflict is real and often brutal

Conflict, however, is not the whole story. The common good is a reality. The maintenance of order, the, construction of roads, provisions for public health, and' the support of schools (to name only a few) benefit the entire community and not just the few who. sell goods or services as a result. The element of mutual benefit is also present in economic activity. Capital and lilbor, meaning the owners of industry and the employees, are often in bitter conflict over wages and benefits, yet. capital and labor also work together. Without capital to provide equipment, labor would not be productive, and without a labor force, the owners of capital could not operate. Sometimes capital and labor are hard to define. Is a retired steelworker, whose pension is dependent on the 'money paid into his pension fund by corporate dividends; a laborer or a capitalist? Democratic elections and legislative Coin promises offer an arena for both conflict and cooperation. Conllict can be expressed through the effort to secure legislation favorable to a particular group. Cooperation is seen in the willingness to abide Q}' the results of elections and legislative actions and by a willingness to compromise which allows measures essential to the whole society to be carried out, even though some groups feel their needs have not been fully met.

Posted on September 4, 2014 in Political Economic Institutions

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