Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Self-Interest Isn’t Everything

It might seem surprising to see an economist write an article with this title, but it was in the New York Times a few days ago by Robert Frank which you can read here. One thing he says is

"Self-interest is surely an important human motive, perhaps even the most important motive much of the time. But it is never the only important motive."

Another famous economist, Frank Knight, wrote in 1934:

"Life is at bottom an exploration in the field of values, an attempt to discover values, rather than on the basis of knowledge of them to produce and enjoy them to the greatest possible extent. We strive to 'know ourselves,' to find our real wants, more than to get what we want."


Carl said...

What a great article!! I fully agree that there does seem to be a cycle in society where we go from only thinking of ourselves, to a time where we think about society as a whole. I hope that it is time that we in the USA start to think about our society as a whole. We have great challenges ahead:
A war to end
Budgets to balance
Entitlements to fund
Immigration policy to develop
Global warming
to name just a few

I have to say it, but as a young baby boomer, I am ashamed of the greed we have showed, and the terrible problems we seem to be dumping on the next generations. To all of them I say please learn from our mistakes and do not follow in our footsteps.

The article talks about looking to John Kennedy for inspiration and I could not agree more. I encourage anyone to go the link I have listed and listen some of his speeches- they are inspiring!!


Cyril Morong said...


Thanks for dropping by again and the Kennedy link. You raise some good points. It is hard to know which generation is the most selfish. The article says that these things go in cycles. I don't think there is anything wrong with being selfish. The Jewish philosopher Hillel the Elder said something like "If I am not for myself, then who will be? But if I am for myself only, then what am I?" It is always a balancing act. I found some pretty selfish behavior on the part of Congressmen in the 1790s doing my dissertation. I also had a blog entry on what economist Milton Friedman said about one of Kennedy's famous speeches. You can read that at Milton Friedman vs. John F. Kennedy