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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 38 of the late Paul Heyne‘s 1982 lecture “Income and Ethics in the Market System” as it is reprinted in the 2008 collection of Heyne’s writings, “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion (Geoffrey Brennan and A.M.C. Waterman, eds.):

There is nothing peculiarly selfish about the behavior of participants in a free-market system.  Whether we judge that behavior by its consequences or by its presumed intentions, there is simply no basis for a general verdict of “selfish.”  The primary consequence of people’s participation in the market system is a continuous expansion of cooperative endeavor, mutual accommodation, and valued goods.  That’s certainly not a selfish outcome.

But it’s the intentions, not the outcomes, against which most critics want to level the charge of selfishness.  At this point I appeal to the traffic analogy.  Surely no one would want to argue that drivers are selfishly motivated when they concentrate exclusively on using the means available to achieve their own personal objectives.  Drivers cannot take any effective account of what others want, and any attempt to do so will make others worse off rather than better off.  A narrow obsession with their own welfare, if you want to call it that, is what distinguishes the best drivers.  But I think we could more accurately call it a dedication to the task at hand.