Self Interest, Economics & Altruism
Dec 9, 2017Posted by on
This week on Facebook: I quite deliberately used the term self interest in my posts and assumed that its intention would be understood. However, having decided to research the subject of self interest on the internet it turned out to be a really hard undertaking, not because there was so little information rather there was so much and it was mostly academic. My self interest was to find articles that someone (other than myself) might read and this proved very difficult. Academically there are many facets to the subject of self interest and I was looking for a common understanding. I am left thinking that you must infer what I meant each time I used the term self interest.
Commercially most references to self interest are traceable to the invisible hand of Adam Smith, but as Monday’s article states, My point is not that my fellow economists are wrong to stress the importance of self-interest. But those who insist that it is the only important human motive are missing something important. Even more troubling, the narrow self-interest model, which encourages us to expect the worst in others, often brings out the worst in us as well.
Tuesday’s article asks if pure altruism¹ is possible pointing out that, At the same time, we may notice that generous people don’t necessarily suffer more or flourish less than those who are more self-interested. Altruists may be more content or fulfilled than selfish people. Nice guys don’t always finish last.
Wednesday’s article introduces the term enlightened self interest stating that, Without question, every person has his or her own goals and agenda. They are looking out for their own welfare. Even those people who dedicate their lives to the benefit of others use their time, energy, and resources to further the things they care deeply about. Thus, while they may be highly altruistic, they are still acting in accord with their enlightened self-interests.
Thursday’s article is a review of a book and an author. Written in 2011 it presents an optimistic view that if it was ever real is becoming increasingly unrealisable as pervasive commercial and political self interests seek to subvert individual motivations. The article states that, Where The Wealth of Networks (pdf) offered an in-depth look at how collaborative production was possible online, Bencher’s new book examines how similar mechanisms pervade all manner of cooperation. In particular, The Penguin and the Leviathan (pdf) seeks to dismantle the pervasive assumption that humans are motivated primarily by narrow self-interest.
Friday’s article states that, Political scientists have long hoped to find an “invisible hand” in politics comparable to the one that Adam Smith described in economics. Voter ignorance wouldn’t matter much if a democracy were able to weave individual votes into collective political wisdom, the way a market weaves the self-interested buy-and-sell decisions of individual actors into a prudent collective allocation of resources.
Monday — The Theory That Self-Interest Is the Sole Motivator Is Self-Fulfilling: To be sure, self-interest is an important human motive, and the self-interest model has well-established explanatory power. When energy prices rise, for example, people are more likely to buy hybrid vehicles and add extra insulation in their attics. But some economists go so far as to say that self-interest explains virtually all behavior.
Tuesday — Is Pure Altruism Possible? If a person acts to benefit another in the expectation that the favour will be returned, the natural response is: “That’s not altruism!” Pure altruism, we think, requires a person to sacrifice for another without consideration of personal gain. Doing good for another person because something’s in it for the do-er is the very opposite of what we have in mind. At the same time, we may notice that generous people don’t necessarily suffer more or flourish less than those who are more self-interested. Altruists may be more content or fulfilled than selfish people. Nice guys don’t always finish last.
Wednesday — The Super-Rich Often Succeed By Appealing To Other People’s Enlightened Self-Interests: If you want someone to behave in ways that are supportive of your business endeavours, they will do so — not because they should — but because you have shown them how it is in their enlightened self-interest.
Thursday — Can the Internet Bring the Beginning of the End of Selfishness? Pushing economics to acknowledge a conception of human motivation beyond rational self-interest is still akin to pushing a boulder uphill, but the Internet has at least lowered the gradient.
Friday — The Case Against Democracy: Voter ignorance wouldn’t matter much if a democracy were able to weave individual votes into collective political wisdom, the way a market weaves the self-interested buy-and-sell decisions of individual actors into a prudent collective allocation of resources, but the ignorance of the many has long galled the few, especially the few who consider themselves intellectuals.
Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:
- A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
- A link (url) includes the title references and source, a long read (or video exceeding 10 min)) url* is often indicated as shown.
- The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
- Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
- JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy — Altruism (url*): It is commonly assumed that we ought to be altruistic at least to some extent. But to what extent? And is altruism necessarily admirable? Why should one act for the sake of others and not only for one’s own sake? For that matter, do people in fact act out of altruism, or is all behaviour ultimately self-interested?