Competition drives progress, but put enough humans into any field and the successful groups will start to form cartels in order to keep their leading position without having to compete as hard for it. It is inherent in the human condition that we self-sabotage very well and very aggressively just as soon as we achieve enough success to feel somewhat elevated over our less fortunate peers. Who can even begin to guess how many opportunities have been wasted, how much potential technological progress has been lost thanks to these urges?
The world of technology is now remarkably flat. The majority of the amenities of modern technology are available to the majority of the world: the descendants of peasants can fly for the same cost as the bloodlines of kings, cars and mobile phones are ubiquitous, and holding vast wealth doesn't in fact give a person any great and massive advantage over the middle class - or even the poor in wealthier regions - when it comes to the variety of available medical technology. Every new advance moves rapidly from being comparatively expensive, faulty, and scarce to being comparatively cheap, reliable, and widespread - whether we are talking about air conditioning or heart surgery, though the pernicious effects of regulation slow down the applications of biotechnology to a crawl in comparison to other lines of technological progress.
One of the defining features of our age is the degree to which the very wealthy and the very connected use the same technologies as the rest of us. When new technology is developed we all win - it doesn't matter which research or development group got there first, because we will all have access soon enough. What does matter is how soon that new technology arrives, and that is a function of the size and level of competition in the research and development communities. Michael Batin has this to say, machine translated from the Russian:
In most types of social interactions, people want to be the first. In sport, business, politics, the most coveted, the most honorable place - this place is number 1. This behavior is due to our neurophysiology, our genetics. Often, the winner takes all. During the war, or fight a duel to win - means to survive.
But, in the fight against aging is a totally different situation. We will survive, if any other scientist, institution or fund wins [in the fight against] aging. Yes, these [strangers get] the glory, money and women. At the same time everyone else interested in the victory over the aging gets a chance to live. No amount of money can [be] compared with the value of life. When you're alive, you have the opportunity to achieve whatever you want. When a person is dead, for him [nothing] is possible.
When we see someone [doing better than us to] extend the life of an animal model [and struggle] with aging, [he benefits us] because he can give us life. The more people who are trying to find a cure for old age, the greater our chances of survival, [and] for the return of youth to radical life extension.
The larger the community, the more healthy competition, the better the outcome and the faster the progress towards the end goal. When it comes to the biotechnology of rejuvenation we will either all win together or we all lose together - there is little in the way of middle ground in technological progress. That result is entirely determined by how fast we can create this sort of future medicine, such as that outlined in the SENS proposals.