Enlightened self-interest propels a free society.

Author:Friess, Foster S.
Position:American Thought
 
FREE EXCERPT

"... Americans are becoming increasingly dependent when it comes to making the decisions that most affect their [well-being].... We must find a way to return to our citizens more control over their lives."

In THINKING ABOUT what kind of society is good for business and investing, we need to remember two things. First, enlightened self-interest is a powerful and positive force for good in a free society. As economist Adam Smith said, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest," In this light, it is a worrisome fact that Americans are becoming increasingly dependent when it comes to making the decisions that most affect their interest--e.g., decisions about caring for their health, educating their children, and spending their earnings. If we are to keep the U.S. and its economy on the right track, we must find a way to return to our citizens more control over their lives.

Second, the love of neighbor is the most powerful means changing things for the good. It was with this in mind that Pres. George W. Bush asked each of us in his 2001 inaugural address "to do small things with great love." Too often we create and depend on grandiose bureaucratic programs to address social problems and, in the meantime, allow ourselves to forget about real people. For those of us with faith, it is enough to remember that we are called on by the Lord not to eradicate poverty, but to help our neighbor. For all of us. it should be clear enough by now that bureaucratic programs, such as the 40-year-old War on Poverty, tend to be counterproductive, whereas private and local efforts--what what I call lighthouse missions--bear real fruit.

Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean by lighthouse missions: An elderly couple living in a small coastal village approached the lighthouse keeper one day and explained, "We are out of oil for our home, and it is cold." He gave them oil. The next day, a young couple petitioned for oil for their lamps so their children could study after dark. He gave them oil as well. As a result of these and other well-meaning deeds, he ran out of oil. and without the light that it was his duty to provide, two ships crashed on the rocks, killing hundreds of sailors.

It is not good or productive to allow ourselves to lose focus on our individual lighthouse missions, no matter how well meaning the thing that distracts us. The same general...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP