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JUNE 2000 JOURNAL OF MACROMARKETING A Philosophical Essay about A General Theory of Competition Resources Competences Productivity Economic Growth Ronald Savitt Shelby Hunt has produced one of the most important books in marketing in decades He basically challenges us to engage in the discussion of competition based on what develops as resource advantage The extensive essay is based on a comprehensive examination of the foundations of competition with the hopes of offering a synthetic theory Although Hunt provides compelling arguments worthy of serious attention the major shortcoming of the work is the absence of competitive theory drawn from the theory and practice of marketing that lodged directly in the marketing discipline Nevertheless the integration of competition can more easily flow now that a basic framework has been provided S helby Hunt 2000 has produced an important work on competition an area that has deserved attention for some time especially in marketing where the topic has simply been neglected He uses many of his ideas that have previously appeared in his other writings But to consider this a reworking of previous issues would be to make a major error The book provides a comprehensive and synthetic analysis of ideas drawn from several disciplines it is all done with exacting clarity and purpose His theory demands our attention and as a result it should stimulate much research and lively discussions over the years Whether he has really provided a new theory of competition is a complex issue that will be addressed presently That is not the point however because the discussion adds significantly to our understanding of a complex process He openly offers this as a challenge for others to engage in the development of rival theories No more should be expected Hunt s contribution is extensive and valuable Basically I have three highly integrated points to make First I believe the resource advantage R A theory would have been considerably stronger without its reliance on neoclassical economic principles second I believe that the sewing together of ideas from many literatures has not provided the solid framework that is desired and third I believe Hunt s 2000 overall contribution would have been greater if he had begun with marketing This is not an easy book to review and my comments are pointed toward philosophical differences in his approach They should in no way be taken as a criticism of the scholarly work that he presents ASSUME COMPETITION Assume competition is the dramatic note that is used successfully to get the reader s attention Hunt 2000 begins on the premise that whenever and wherever those words are read or spoken the reader or listener assumes perfect competition for this is the language of mainstream economics Dramatic and forceful in getting our attention I wonder if the universality of meaning he attributes to the concept is as comprehensive as he suggests It is a testable proposition that deserves our attention though such an exercise is beyond the scope of this review 1 It is not that I disagree with his premise For those of us classically educated in economics competition rings as strongly as the bells of Pavlov s dog Personally speaking it has taken years of hard work to get beyond this conditioned response I believe that there is as much confusion in what assume competition means as there is with Adam Smith s invisible hand Competition has a number of meanings and research traditions some of which such as rivalry are not included I appreciate that critique before content may be unfair but it is necessary because Hunt 2000 does not fully clarify the normative and taxonomic elements of his theory as economists often do As a result in many places in the book I had to sit back read and reread and then ask myself whether this is about what it should be or what it is While he does discuss explanation and prediction it is not fully developed in such terms Early in the description of the book s contents he offers the theories normative implications The former case is somewhat worrying insofar as the success of economic predictions has never been all that great I would argue that more than any theory of competition is required to understand the Journal of Macromarketing Vol 20 No 1 June 2000 73 76 2000 Sage Publications Inc 73 74 JUNE 2000 failures in the socialist economies that he mentions The argument reflects a I told you so perspective when indeed these economies had very different shapes and might have been different if they had been allowed to operate on the underlying assumptions Explanations of failure and success cannot be narrowed in this way I just do not see the same predictive strength that Hunt does He titles his theory R A theory It originates from no one single research tradition but a number of traditions in several different disciplines R A is process oriented and incorporates three principles It views 1 innovation and organizational learning as endogenous to competition 2 firms and consumers as having imperfect information and 3 institutions and public policy as affecting economic performance Hunt 2000 chap 1 p 10 Competition for R A theory is the disequilibrating process that consists of the constant struggle among firms for comparative advantages in resources that will yield some market segment s and thereby superior financial performance The volume is divided into four sections The first provides a comprehensive discussion of the eleven research traditions from which the premises are drawn Chapters 2 3 and 4 respectively examine evolutionary economics Austrian economics heterogeneous demand and differential advantage and business strategy and institutional theory The second section chapters 5 and 6 offers a complete development of the premises and structure of the theory the third links R A to issues of productivity economic growth and the wealth of nations The final section found in chapter 10 promotes the thesis that R A is a general theory of competition LETTING GO Hunt s 2000 goal is to develop a theory explaining competition as comprehensive as that found in economics built by integrating a number of research traditions based on affinity His methodology integrates propositions from eleven research traditions most of which except for economic sociology have their roots deep in economics This is an extensive task What is curious about Hunt s approach is that this is to be accomplished without criticizing traditional economic

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