Serving Others and the Invisible Hand

David Boaz has a good opinion piece in the WSJ lamenting an attitude shared by Senators Obama and McCain. I agree with his opinion and was especially taken with this quote:

Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.

The last sentence understates the case. Unless you make your living as a thug or a fraud, the only way you make money is by being of service to others. Of course, you can be of service to others without making money, but you can’t make legitimate money without being of service to others. What’s more, it’s quantifiable. We know we are making a more valuable contribution when the pay is better. The non-paid service to others is of unknown value because services are provided to those who cannot pay. People tend to think of the non-paid service as morally superior, but it’s not obviously true.

There was a time when the main path to wealth was to be a thug. I suspect this is why we have a cultural suspicion of the wealthy. And enough people do well enough being thugs or frauds, so are suspicions are constantly being re-enforced.

Regardless of what we might be inclined to think, the greatest aid to the poor, the suffering, the sick, and the hungry may well be a byproduct of people pursuing their own selfish interests. As if led by an invisible hand….


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