Kurt Bouwhuis, Mackinac Center Intern
Would it be inaccurate to say that every single individual acts within their own self interest?
If you are one who believes that self interest is the same as being greedy or selfish, then the above statement would indeed be inaccurate. If, however, you view self interest as pursuing what you value most, then the above statement becomes very accurate. Don’t believe me? A simple example will help illustrate this point.
Suppose I am walking down the street with my girlfriend. All of a sudden, a semi truck comes peeling around the corner out of control and I only have a few seconds to make one of two choices. My first choice is to push my girlfriend under the truck in order to propel myself out of the way. My second choice is to push my girlfriend out of the way of harm and, as a result, get hit by the truck. Unfortunately, in this situation, you cannot be like Spiderman and save both yourself and your girlfriend (and the poor people hanging in the trolley car).
With either choice, I would be acting in my own self interest. Here’s why: Regardless of the choice I make, I place a value on both my own life, as well as my girlfriends. If I personally value my own life more, I will pursue my own self interest and save myself. If I personally value my girlfriends life more than my own, I will once again pursue my own self interest and push her out of harms way and sacrifice myself.
In short, it is impossible for anyone to not act within their own self interest. Some place high value on money, others place high value on the environment, and others place high value on the feelings of others. An external observer may say one value is more valuable than the other, but all this person is really doing is comparing their own values to the values of others.
Unfortunately, governments around the world create a framework that allows a small group of individuals (mainly politicians and interest groups) to alter the costs and benefits of pursuing ones own unique values.