… is from page 66 of Tom Palmer’s 2011 essay “Adam Smith and the Myth of Greed,” as this essay appears in the 2011 collection The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won’t Tell You (Tom G. Palmer, ed.):
A common mistake is to identify the purposes of people exclusively with their “self-interest,” which is then in turn confused with “selfishness.” The purposes of people in the market are indeed purposes of selves, but as selves with purposes we are also concerned about the interests and well-being of others – our family members, our friends, our neighbors, and even total strangers whom we will never meet. Indeed, markets help to condition people to consider the needs of others, including total strangers.
DBx: If you doubt the last statement, ask yourself how successful you think Amazon or Target or Apple or Toyota or McDonald’s or Netflix or Levi Strauss would be if their executives refused to consider the needs and desires of total strangers. And you would have a shallow understanding of human nature if you doubted that the habitual consideration of the needs and desires of strangers in these commercial circumstances does not encourage in those who are so habituated a greater regard for strangers generally.
It’s worth noting carefully here the wording of one of Adam Smith’s most famous passages in An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
Contrary to how this passage is often misquoted, Smith did not here prefix “interest” with “self.” While the great Scot would not have denied that part of the butcher’s, the brewer’s, and the baker’s interest is the material care and comfort of themselves and their immediate families, Smith understood that the typical person in commercial society has also as part of his interest concerns that extend beyond the narrow, material “self.”