Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why is 'self-interest' such a bad thing?

The Blade editorial board has criticized the Take Back Toledo recall effort against Mayor Carty Finkbeiner as being nothing more than

"In short, there's nothing courageous about hiding behind the cloistered walls of the Toledo Club to plot the takeover of municipal government if the motivation is personal gain and not the greater good of this city and the proud people who actually live here."

You see, according to the liberal perspective and The Blade (but I repeat myself), it really doesn't matter if your actions have a detrimental impact, so long as your intentions are good. If you do bad things but you believe you're doing it for the greater good of the city, you're excused.

But if you want a good business-friendly environment for the city and you know the mayor's actions and decisions are negatively impacting your ability to hire people and make a profit, you are - obviously - evil and selfish.

So I have to ask - what's so bad about acting in your own self interest?

First, let me point out that I'm not talking about selfishness - there's a distinct difference between selfishness and self-interest, and Ayn Rand makes the point very well:

"Traditional ethics has always been suspicious of self interest, praising acts that are selfless in intent and calling amoral or immoral acts that are motivated by self interest. A self-interested person, on the traditional view, will not consider the interests of others and so will slight or harm those interests in the pursuit of his own.

Rand's view is that the exact opposite is true: self-interest, properly understood, is the standard of morality and selflessness is the deepest immorality.

Self interest rightly understood, according to Rand, is to see oneself as an end in oneself. That is to say that one's own life and happiness are one's highest values, and that one does not exist as a servant or slave to the interests of others. Nor do others exist as servants or slaves to one's own interests. Each person's own life and happiness is his ultimate end. Self interest rightly understood also entails self-responsibility: one's life is one's own, and so is the responsibility for sustaining and enhancing it. It is up to each of us to determine what values our lives require, how best to achieve those values, and to act to achieve those values.

Rand's ethic of self interest is integral to her advocacy of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism, more often called "libertarianism" in the 20th century, is the view that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests. This implies, politically, that governments should be limited to protecting each individual's freedom to do so. In other words, the moral legitimacy of self interest implies that individuals have rights to their lives, their liberties, their property, and the pursuit of their own happiness, and that the purpose of government is to protect those rights. Economically, leaving individuals free to pursue their own interests implies in turn that only a capitalist or free market economic system is moral: free individuals will use their time, money, and other property as they see fit, and will interact and trade voluntarily with others to mutual advantage."

What many business people object to is Carty's - and Council's - penchant for taking over private business so government can do it instead (towing, ambulance service, entertainment/hall rental). If government is supposed to protect an individual's freedom, how do the decisions to take over certain industries do that? Short answer: they don't.

Ed Nagle, one of the individuals involved with Take Back Toledo and a Toledo resident, explains why he's involved with the recall with an open letter to Carty:

"It is your role as a government leader to create an atmosphere that promotes private investment. Quite simply, you have failed miserably. When Costco announced it was making a major investment in Toledo, you immediately began interfering and making wage and benefit demands on them, sounding more like Jimmy Hoffa, than an economic development leader attracting business. By the way United Way is NOT yours or John Block’s building!

If I considered starting a successful business in Toledo, how long would you let my new company exist before you decided that the City of Toledo should enter that business and become my primary competitor using essentially interest-free taxpayer money to finance the project? How can anyone required to make a financial investment compete in that environment? More importantly, WHY would anyone choose to? Ambulances, tow lots, entertainment venues….what other non-chartered city business will you be getting us into?"

I know Ed and his wife - they are our friends. Ed, acting in his own self-interest, started a company and wants it to succeed. He has employees whom he has hired and I know he wants them to continue having a job at his company. He has customers who value the service he provides - and he provides a good service so he continues to have such customers. I also know that Ed has been very generous in 'giving back' (as liberals call it) to his community.

He is self-interested, not selfish.

But, because The Blade disagrees with what the TBT people are doing, they launch a personal attack against them, saying that acting in a self-interested way is somehow bad. Oh - and because they're not 'Toledoans' they obviously don't have the self-interest of the city at heart. Do the members of the editorial board all live in Toledo and, if not, what makes them any different than the TBT members when it comes to telling Toledo what they'd like to see happen?

Do the editors think they somehow have a better position from which to present opinions and perspectives than these other businessmen? The Blade doesn't answer that question, but they should. Their opinions are no more relevant than anyone else's, including yours and mine.

Additionally, they act in their own self-interest when they support, by way of endorsement, elected officials and candidates who agree with them on various issues. If it's wrong for TBT members to have self-interest, it is most assuredly wrong for The Blade, as well.

Perhaps they will go back to the motivation - the idea that the right or correct motivation excuses all, regardless of impact? That can be their only defense to this hypocrisy: 'we have the best interests of the city at heart, so we're right while TBT members are only interested in themselves, so that is wrong.'

But that means The Blade editors have concluded what motivates these TBT members - and as far as I can tell, they've not actually spoken to any of them, so they can't know, they can only speculate or assume ... and we all know what happens when you assume.

Since the editors feel it's somehow okay to speculate, I'm sure they won't mind the rest of us doing so. My speculation is that The Blade sees a challenge to their ability to be the opinion leader (dictator?) in the community. If a group of business people join together and start presenting a conflicting view of what's good for Toledo and the region, The Blade suddenly has competition and their opinion of what's good for Toledo and the region might decline in influence. So if they want to maintain the influence they've enjoyed for quite some time, they must discredit any potential challenge to that influence and diminish the potential impact.

Gee - it sounds as if the editors are acting in their own self-interest, don't you think?

The Blade has already started to intimate that this group is somehow acting inappropriately by calling it a cabal "...hiding behind the cloistered walls of the Toledo Club to plot..." The group will be likened to a good old boys network where a bunch of business men sit in back-room meetings, smoking cigars, and deciding the fate of all of us.

I don't want to go back to the days where a few men got to decide for all of us. But the absence of such a good old boys club just opened up space for The Blade and unions to assume the role, with candidates and elected officials making pilgrimages to Pittsburgh to get the blessing of the publisher of the paper, or promising fealty to the various political action committees of local labor organizations.

Having enjoyed such influence for such a long period of time, they don't want to let it go.

Unlike The Blade, I like the competition. I'm looking forward to the active participation of the business community in commenting on public policy and candidates' positions. I welcome their renewed interest in speaking out for what's good for the job providers in the region, knowing that they are the ones who create the jobs - not government and its elected officials.

And I'm acting in my own self-interest in doing so.


Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


This one should be an "interesting" nail biter...

BTW, I'll be working in my own self interests as well ;-)

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Timothy W Higgins said...


More good has been done by "enlightened" self-interest than was ever accomplished by simple good intentions, as for example that accomplished by our Founding Fathers. One could likewise call them a cabal, since acting too much in public would have undoubtedly gotten them killed.

That being said, what term do we use (if not cabal) for the secret meetings that have been going on for years in Pittsburgh?

Maggie said...

Tim - it's not a cabal in Pittsburgh because it's not a group of people getting together and's more of kowtowing or paying homage, but that doesn't sound as sinister as 'cabal.'

I shall have to think on this, unless something inspires you to create a new definition for your SOS dictionary...

Timothy W Higgins said...


I love it when a challenge like this presents itself. I will get right on it.

Timothy W Higgins said...


Mission accomplished, and awaiting editorial review.

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