Yaron Brook, the chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand Insitute and Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro, clear the air the misconceptions around altruism and the moral case for capitalism
SHAPIRO: Let’s talk about the free-market philosophy because when people think of Ayn Rand, particularly in American politics, they tend to think specifically in the economic context. They think, ok greed is good, Gordon Gekko, selfishness is a virtue and they think that that is a villainous conceit — that basically the only way that we can live in a society together is not to be selfish. And particularly they hold this is true in the realm of economics. You make the counter-case. You say selfishness is really the only value in economics that’s going to forward yourself, and also for the society at large. What’s the case for selfishness?
BROOK: Well the case of selfishness is that you only have one life and you have a fundamental choice that you have — to live or not to live right. And that every choice should be made around living. That this fundamental alternative shapes your values or your values should be geared towards your survival and survival as a human being, which means survival as a full human with your rational capacity, your spiritual capacity, your capacity to live a complete and full life.
So the argument for self-interest, in the broader sense, is the argument that basically says, you know, it’s your life. It’s nobody else’s life. It’s your life. Live it for your own sake — live it to achieve your own personal happiness. And I believe one of the challenges with capitalism is that too many people over — you know really since Adam Smith including Adam Smith — have tried to justify capitalism not from an egoistic perspective, not from a selfish perspective, not from the perspective of individuals pursuing their own happiness — individual pursuing their own values their own rational values — but from the perspective of what it does for society.
So Adam Smith says, the baker doesn’t bake the bread for you, he bakes the bread for himself. He’s being selfish. But we don’t like selfishness, Adam Smith says. This, we know, it’s not a virtue, it’s really deep down a vice. But when you add up all the vices it turns into a virtue. Society is better off if everybody pursues this.
And I’m like, no, nobody believes that if you add up vices it turns into a virtue. I’m saying, the baker taking care of himself and his family and feeding them and making a profit for himself: that’s virtue. Right. And that’s the moral justification for capitalism. You can’t justify capitalism from the perspective of, no Gordon Gekko is really greedy but it turns out that if they do that, the world’s a better place so we’ll let them do it. Nobody believes you, and nobody is going to allow that to happen. The regulatory state is built around the idea that those greedy selfish businessmen are going to cheat. They’re going to steal. They’re all crooks because that’s what we associate with self-interest. And therefore we have to regulate them and control them.
SHAPIRO: Now this is where I got in trouble with some of the Objectivists — when I was on Dave Rubin’s show. You’re talking about capitalism. And one of the things I suggested, as I said, that it effectively has the same consequence as forced altruism. If that actually works you can’t force altruism from other people because then it loses the actual character of altruism. But more than that, what I was trying to say is that free exchange is — I don’t get what I want from you, unless I give you something that you want. So the effect is that you get what you want from me. But that’s only because I’m also getting what I want from you. So the effect is the same, I think the linguistic kind of approach is different.
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