… is from page 461 of my late colleague Jim Buchanan‘s 1986 Nobel Prize lecture, “The Constitution of Economic Policy,” as it is reprinted in volume 1 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan: The Logical Foundations of Constitutional Liberty:
In the absence of individual interest, there is no interest.
DBx: Among humans, all thinking, feeling, desiring, loathing, hoping, weighing of alternatives, experiencing regret, and choosing are done by each individual. Collections of individuals, as such, do none of these things; the individuals who constitute any collection of individuals do these things and these things are done only by individuals. One can sensibly speak of the ‘interest of the group’ or the ‘sense of the community,’ but only metaphorically. A group of people is not really a thinking, sentient being with its own unique preferences and interests.
The interests of each of all of, or each of most of, the members of a group of people might be better or worse served by some situation in which each of the members of the group finds himself or herself. Also, each of, or most of, the individuals in the group might adjust his or her preferences under the influence of other members of the group; and he or she might find his or her interest better served if the individuals who constitute the group somehow coordinate their individual actions with each other. (Such coordination might occur spontaneously, as in markets, or more deliberately, as in democratic-voting situations.) And we might call this coordination “group action” – but, here too, such a description is only metaphorical: action is taken only by each individual in the group. And the goodness or badness of the outcome is judged and experienced by only by each of the members of the group.