Monday, June 12, 2006

Self-interest vs. social planning

...they are led to condemn even the basic motive
power of human actions—I mean self-interest—since
it has brought about such a state of affairs. Let
us note that man is made in such a way that he
seeks pleasure and shuns pain. From this source,
I agree, come all the evils of society: war,
slavery, monopoly, privilege; but from this
source also come all the good things of life,
since the satisfaction of wants and the avoidance
of suffering are the motives of human action. The
question, then, is to determine whether this
motivating force which, though individual, is so
universal that it becomes a social phenomenon, is
not in itself a basic principle of progress.

In any case, do not the social planners realize
that this principle, inherent in man's very
nature, will follow them into their new orders,
and that, once there, it will wreak more serious
havoc than in our natural order, in which one
individual's excessive claims and self-interest
are at least held in bounds by the resistance of
all the others? These writers always assume two
inadmissible premises: that society, as they
conceive it, will be led by infallible men
completely immune to the motive of self-interest;
and that the masses will allow such men to lead
Either the social planner must have at his
disposal force capable of crushing all
resistance, so that human beings become mere wax
between his fingers to be molded and fashioned to
his whim; or he must gain by persuasion consent
so complete, so exclusive, so blind even, that
the use of force is made unnecessary.

I defy anyone to show me a third means of
setting up and putting into operation a
phalanstery*14 or any other artificial social

Now, if there are only two means, and we
demonstrate that they are both equally
impracticable, we have proved by that very fact
that the social planners are wasting their time
and trouble.

...and creating chaos in the process.

Read the great man, Bastiat, here.