Critics of economics, particularly in the world of religion, frequently charge that the discipline is grounded in a mindset of scarcity and competition versus what they champion: abundance and cooperation. The critique is considerably overblown.
First, economists recognize the world for what it is. Virtually nothing we use comes in usable form directly from nature. Everything we use requires human transformation from a less useful form into a more useful form. Economists study how human beings (individually and corporately) prioritize and decide what to make, how to make, and how to distribute. Economics is focused on how people create abundance out of scarcity, not on competing over a fixed set of existing goods as so many of the critics imagine economists to be advocating.
Second, economists mean something specific when they speak of competition. Timothy Taylor recently wrote in his post, Competition as a Form of Cooperation:
“… The kind of market competition that economists typically invoke is not about wolves competing in a pen full of sheep, nor is it competition between weeds to choke the flowerbed. The market-based competition envisioned in economics is disciplined by rules and reputations, and those who break the rules through fraud or theft or manipulation are clearly viewed as outside the shared process of competition. Market-based competition is closer in spirit to the interaction between Olympic figure-skaters, in which pressure from other competitors and from outside judges pushes individuals to strive for doing the old and familiar better, along with seeking out new innovations. Sure, the figure-skaters are trying their hardest to win. But in a broader sense, their process of training and coming together under agreed-upon rules is a deeply cooperative and shared enterprise.”
Competition is not a creation of economists or capitalism. Competition is the natural order of the world God created. At any given moment, we have a fixed amount of resources available and a fixed number of hours in a day. We cannot do everything at once and we do not all share the same priorities on what to do next. Those resource limits and differing priorities are what put us in competition, not some economic theory. So the abundance seeking economist might ask how we make more goods with less resources? How might we improve the productivity of each hour? These lead to a greater abundance of goods and choices.
Markets do no create competition. Markets are a human response to focus the competition that God has an inherently placed in the world toward greater abundance and cooperation. They aren't perfect, but they have no parallel for a vast array of decisions that must constantly be made. Economics recognizes the existence of scarcity and competition while seeking a world of abundance and cooperation.