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Selfinterestedness v. Selfishness

There has been a lot of perceived confusion regarding the two words that are the subjects of this post.

One seems to think that any act which benefits one person is inherently selfish.  This cannot be possible, because buying a gallon of milk from a store is not inherently selfish, as the store gets its payment for the milk, (which it obviously values more than the milk or it would not sell for that price,) and I get the milk (which I obviously value more than the price or I would not pay it.)

The above scenario is a picture of a case of selfinterestedness, where my motivations to improve my own state are fulfilled without the damaging effects of selfishness, which I will point out below.

Now, take our first example, and instead of my paying for the milk, I instead steal it by hiding it under my winter jacket (say, its December instead of July.)  My theft improves my state, but hurts everyone else involved because the store loses the gallon of milk that would go in part to pay for its own existence as well as the wages of the employees, and will likely go in hand with eventual price increases due to lost profitability of the theft.  My selfishness hurt the other party, at my gain.  Even if I am starving and sick, I still hurt the store and its employees and other patrons with my theft.

Clearly there is a definite line between the two.  There need not be a painful reenactment of this misnomer every time someone does something ‘for profit.’  Capitalism itself falls into the selfinterested portion of the debate, while socialism, and the removal of goods and services from someone (for any reason, beneficial to the poor/sick/helpless or otherwise) would obviously fall into the selfish category, because only one party (two if you count the political class who gets points for ‘helping the poor/sick/helpless) is benefited by the ‘transaction.’

We should think about these things next time we rail against the greed of Wall Street and Walmart, while begging the government to grant food stamps and free ‘Health Care’ for all.


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