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I think some liberals (in the modern sense meaning 'leftist') believe this or similar:

All voluntary actions are self-interest based, therefore to rise above self-interest and have an ideal society *requires* involuntary actions: government force.

Elliot Temple on February 26, 2006

Messages (5)

I think you are right. To them, self-interest is evil and the only way to correct that human "flaw" is through coercion.

Chris at 6:17 AM on February 28, 2006 | #25 | reply | quote

Insightful. An *ideal* society is a rational one. 'Rising above' self-interest is contrary to reason.

Anonymous at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2006 | #26 | reply | quote

Well, I'm a leftist, so I thought I'll say my opinion.

Anonymous' comment makes me want to ask how you define self-interest. I guess that if someone chooses to help others, then it's in his own interest, on some level (though I don't think that's how you use the word in everyday language). But does that mean helping others is also in the interest of people who have so far not chosen to do so?

To me, self-interest is not evil. I wouldn't even have anything against not helping other people if there wasn't so much misery to be helped. (Actually, I don't think much about good and evil at all, more about pleasure and pain.)

But it's interesting what Peter SInger writes in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (it's on http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972----.htm , but it's not written only for utilitarians). "I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. [...] My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. [...] I could even [...] qualify the point so as to make it: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it."

And I don't consider a society with government force an ideal society. I just think it might be less bad than anarchy. Or not, I don't know. I just think that leaving people's food, shelter, and health care up to the goodwill of other people is risky. This risk might be worth the benefits of the decision, but that doesn't mean there's no risk.

Kletta at 2:01 AM on March 3, 2006 | #27 | reply | quote

I consider 'preventing bad things happening' to others to be concordant with self-interest. That is, the self-interest of anyone who supports a fair and stable society.

I agree with your concerns though. Being dependant on the goodwill of others is an unenviable position, even in a leftist society.

Anonymous at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2006 | #28 | reply | quote

I just think that leaving people's food, shelter, and health care up to the goodwill of other people is risky.

Isn't that what leaving it in the hands of law makers does? Capitalism allows other people to help but also is about the individual person being able to improve his circumstances.

There are some people that are good to help out. Both socialism and capitalism try to find and help them, but in different ways. (Presently in USA we have a mix of these approaches). Keep in mind that even if all people should be helped they will still need different types of help. Most need loans (which can buy daycare, food, healthcare, a factory, and so on) but others wold waste that money and need other sorts of help to teach them to live better.

Under capitalism we will expect to see things like job training programs that you pay back some of your wages to. And we expect to see loans to people who want capital and have a good idea what to do with it, and we have venture capitalists now who do high risk loans.

Under socialism the idea is that the government knows who is worth helping in what ways. This is magical thinking. If a group of central planners could figure all that out then a single think tank in a capitalist country could too (maybe a large one). But think tanks disagree, because the truth is not obvious. The government has no advantages in finding it.

In capitalism people who are wrong about who to help and how bear the cost of their mistake (and part of benefits of success). This promotes error correction both by giving people incentive to get it right and it takes control over wealth (and thus future decisions about what should be done with wealth) away from people who choose badly and gives it to people with a good track record. In socialism, the tax payers bear the cost of mistakes and all these good mechanisms don't exist.t

Elliot at 4:00 PM on March 3, 2006 | #29 | reply | quote

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