Saturday, May 8, 2010

127 / The Invisible Hand

Individual actions add up and have collective consequences. One political theory is that there is an “invisible hand” that ensures that all of our selfishly motivated individual actions will result, ultimately, in the public good.

The "public good," in this concept, which has been most famously promoted by the economist Adam Smith, is simply the summing up of all our "individual goods." It's such a great theory! Some people are still promoting it. Too bad Adam Smith was wrong.

Unfortunately, it is demonstrably not true that the economic marketplace (which is the real name of the “invisible hand”) will transmogrify individual "self-interest" into the "public interest." If we want to achieve what we decide is in the “public interest,” we need to do it directly, which means that we need to formulate our public interest objectives together, and then work together to achieve them, in some collective, and ultimately “political” way.

"Government" is the way we come together to make community decisions about what we want to do. It's how we establish our public policy goals. "Government" is also the way we mobilize our common resources to try to achieve those public policy goals.

The bottom line, as a matter of pure logic, is that unless you really believe in that "invisible hand," and think that the only thing that makes a real difference is what you do, "individually," you should find some way to get involved in community level decision making.

That's "government," for short. Or, "politics."

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