Greed, Selfishness, and Self-interest

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bah, C-SPAN BookTv doesn't allow embedding videos.

I think that Ayn Rand made a very serious rhetorical mistake in arguing that selfishness not only drove a market economy but that it was a virtue... She also considered capitalism as incompatible with altruism.

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Her thought, however complex it is, tends to get distilled in the popular imagination as a simple equation of greed or selfishness with the capitalist system, except that she's actually advocating the system rather than critiquing it.

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Some folks think that Rand is interpreting the great work of Adam Smith from the 1700s and she's really not departing from that... Adam Smith was not saying what a simple summary of Ayn Rand would make you think he's saying...

Adam Smith on Self-Interest (emphasis by Richards):

"In spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, [business people] are lead by an invisible hand... and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society."

If you read this, you'd think he's basically saying people and tradesmen are greedy... Nevertheless, if you read Smith, I think it's a fundamental misunderstanding to confuse his understanding of self-interest with selfishness.

Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem, Jay W. Richards, May 5, 2009, http://www.booktv.org/watch.aspx?ProgramId=PC-10489.