Self Interest Today

 
  • Self Interest Today

    Free markets and the invisible hand having been mentioned in the "Issues with the world" thread I thought it'd be better to get to the root connection of the two;

    Is self interest the only motivating action of the world? If it isn't then what is, and how can a better world be built if human action is driven by something else?


  • I don't deny selfinterest as a factor in decision making, that would be stupid. But I disagree with the statement that "every individuals self-interset (or as economists formulate it "rational behaviour") contributes to the good of society" aka The Invisible hand, the cornerstone of liberalism and, it seems, economics.
    I think the best argument against this is The Prisoners Dilemma.

    In the original exampel of this philosofical dilemma there are two prisoners X and Y. They only have two options: Confess or remain silent. They can´t communicate. There are four outcomes:

    1. If X confesses and Y remains silent, X gets 0 years in prison and Y 20.
    2. If Y confesses and X remains silent, Y gets 0 years in prison and X 20.
    3. If both confess they both get 5 years
    4. If both remain silent they both get 1 years.

    The rational thing, (self interest) is to confess since no matter what strategy the other prisoner takes you'll be better off by confessing. Still if both remain silent they both only get 1 years each. This is less than the alternatives where you confess if you put together both of the prisoners served time.

    So the "rational" choice is worse for the collective than a non rational choice.
    An exampels from real life: Traffic jam. You can take the car or you can travel by some other means. If you take the car you will get there faster, if there is traffic jam or not. But if eveybody travels collevtive everybody will get from a to B faster.
    The most common exempel is enviromental problems though, where "rational" acts destroy for everybody.


    Now I'm going all WALL OF TEXT on you so I'll chill out for now.

  • Wall Of Text #2

    Personally I dispute self interest itself as the sole motivator to human social action, which is what seems to be suggested by neoclassical economics (and its para-military wing of neoliberal politics)

    If self interest is the only factor then people plain and simple won't be vegetarians, or buy fair trade products. What possible self interested benefits could one get from the continued existence of a cow on the only proviso that when it gets killed you personally won't eat it? And what self interested facet of human nature is satisfied by the application of 'trade justice' to someone you have never met?

    Similarly I'm not saying self interest NEVER influences action, but you have to be socialised into having it as the only cause of behaviour

    Plus, on a technical level, economists massively overplay "The Invisible Hand". Adam Smith only uses it twice in his published works. Once to explain how you cant eat more than your stomach will physically contain and then once to explian how investment will NOT cross international boundaries because people will naturally invest in their home economies. To try and use it as the justification for, say, British Economic Policy 1979-1997 (as the tories did) is a complete fallacy


  • A famous Adam Smith qoute "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from thier regard of their own interest. We address ourselves not to thier humanity, but to thier self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities, but of their advantage."

    I do think Adam Smith though of this a something to base politics on. It is something economist bring up anyway.
    Instead of a society of mutual help, they want a society of exploitation. The core of this I suppose is that marketliberals think competition is a good thing. I belive competition to be the root of most things evil...

    I belive that in a society where it's encouraged and or expected that you act on self-interest we'll get a society whith a lack of empathy.

  • You know thats the basis of Smith's other work, the Theory Of Moral Sentiments; that there must be clear moral boundaries to our actions within society as otherwise we can never acheive our potential. The theme of TMS is that sympathy should guide our actions as only by placing ourselves in the eyes of the rest of the world can we see the consequences of our action.

    And with the above quote it must be pointed aout that 'Self Love' at that time wasnt the same as 'Self Interest' now. Smithian self love, in fact, included the above use of sympathy to show we can only really be happy when we consider the lives of others. Similarly self love is the path towards social benefit as self-love motivated action places economic agents within a social context.

    Don't be fooled into thinking Smith is the evil hedonist that neoliberals make him out to be. Theres more to him than that.


  • I know that.. Neoliberals use this as an argument though. First they point to Smiths writings about the invisivble hand and then they hold up "The Theory of Moral Sentiment" and say: "Look we're not evil".

    An exampel would be the book on microeconomy I've read for my economics class where the writer does just that. First he quotes "Wealth of Nations" and shortly after "The Theory of Moral Sentiment".

  • Well, no matter how much you attempt an honest philosphy of the world nothing stops some utter bastard coming across, taking three quotes out of a thousand page book and using it as a political weapon


  • Is self interest the only motivating action of the world? If it isn't then what is, and how can a better world be built if human action is driven by something else?It certainly isn't for me. I'm a vegan and the choice to become so wasn't out of selfish reasons. I think people can be motivated by altruism and a sense of duty, having experienced both myself. However, there seems to be a lack of people with sense for either as of late.

  • Would you consider your actions entirely individual then, in the sense that it was mostly something internal to you, or a product of looking at the rest of society and deciding that you had to do something different to everyone else about your diet?


  • I didn't do it just to stand out and be a non conformist it that's what you mean.
    1. It's ecologically better
    2. It's morally better
    3. It's economically better
    4. It's healthier for me

    1 & 2 tie for first place in terms of importance.
    To be honest, now that I think about it, my initial decision to become a vegan wasn't very solidly backed up by any reasons whatsoever, it just happened. However my continued existance as a vegan is supported by the conclusion that it is better for everyone involved.

    I would like to argue that altruistic values in people are somewhat derived from the values of their parents, however my own parents are very self centred and still eat meat, so I can't really cite myself as an example of this.
    I do think that the way people are raised influences the way they think. Altruism is discouraged in this society, the constant bombardment of the media on us encourages us to buy buy buy and spend spend spend.

  • Rejecting normality and doing it just to look cool is a part of the social aspect, which I would call emulation, but then altruisms also social cos your doing it for the rest of society.

    If you widen out your altruism to other people who you respected while you were growing up then you possibly might find someone else, outside your immediate family who influenced you

    Its odd you say that you had not obvious reason to go vegan in the beginning, as it was the same for me both when i gave up alcohol and then meat. The difference being the alcohol one stuck but the vegetarianism one didnt


  • shame that :P

  • I can live with it. Individualist, see?


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