April 22, 2010

On the basis of one simple rule the free market achieves a remarkable result. The rule is that all participants act voluntarily, without coercion. The result is that each party to an exchange profits by it. This means that the selfish motives of individuals provide benefits for all. Magic!
But what about the actions of people who operate from altruistic, unselfish motives? Is someone else always profiting at their expense?
My personal belief is that the most unselfish acts have an underlying selfish motivation. Whether it is our genes or our culture, we get satisfaction out of doing good to others. Personally, it makes my day if I do my “good deed for the day”. Yes, I was a boy scout long ago. So even if I gain nothing or even lose materially in an exchange, I gain enough in psychic satisfaction to more than compensate for the loss. All in all, I, too, profit from the exchange.
There are a million opportunities for altruistic action. You may feel strongly that we should save some endangered species from extinction, or perhaps save the poorest people everywhere from starvation. Good thought. You can do your part, but you can’t do it alone. You might think that everyone should do their share in aid of your favorite charity. You may take up collections, or spread the word in whatever way you can to persuade others to give. Alas, it still isn’t enough.
Then, if you have socialist leanings, you may decide that everyone else should be forced to support your pet cause. You turn to government to tax everyone to satisfy your altruistic project. This is where altruism becomes a menace to freedom, and the free market goes out the window.
By all means, support your favorite charity freely, but please leave me free to support mine, even if my own charity is just to build up my own wealth.


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