Care ethics and Confucian philosophy
Culture Matters: The Real Obstacles to Latin American Development

Memorial Day

Jonathan B. Wight

When examining the philosophy of selfish individualism as a system for organizing society, I always think of Memorial Day.

It is hard to argue that "I made it my way" and "Greed is good" when walking through Arlington Cemetery.

Many lucky people have it made in America, but not only from their own hard work and individual virtues. Many of the institutions we take for granted, and which allow us the freedom to pursue our dreams, came at the expense of the lives of others who served.

Humility and gratitude are the emotions of today.


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I think this where an understanding of self-interest comes in. Self-interest also includes a recognition of the greater good. We benefit if a system that recognizes the value of the individual and the freedom of choice is not supplanted by one that values only the collective and relegates decision-making to a powerful few. It is that way that we maximize "total surplus".

Well said, Jonathan, well said.

Thanks for the good comment, Tim. Are you envisioning something like "enlightened" self interest? Enlightened self interest can certainly do much if the incentives are there. But there is still a huge problem of free riding, which I don't think can be fully solved by rational self interest. I think we do need something like Smith's moral sentiments model also at work (but of course I am biased). Cheers.

I am envisioning "enlightened" self-interest. And while I agree that "rational" self-interest can lead to different outcomes, including free-riders, I don't see enlightened and rational as necessarily being exclusive. Smith wrote both books, and I never bought the argument that he was writing for different audiences.

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