Who’s Selfish Now?

One of the more common critiques of Capitalism is that due to its focus on self-interested incentives that it promotes a selfish society. While there are those who object to this classification, but consider that Ayn Rand herself authored a book titled “The Virtue of Selfishness which would understandably cause some confusion. However, the irony is that in order to compete with “market forces” you actually need to put a greater focus on the “other” in order to sell your product or goods. As I hope to explain, in order to succeed in a capitalistic economy, one must have a greater appreciation for the needs of other people.

Consider a top story posted this past week on Drudge that “Youth Unemployment Hits Record High“. Associated with this story was the following picture of a protester holding a sign proclaiming “A Job is a Right”:

Such sentiments are not uncommon among frustrated protesters who demand that someone, most often the government, provide jobs:

Or this protester demanding “Good Jobs! Jobs for all NOW!”

To assume that having a job is a “right” implies that someone else has the “duty” to provide one with a job, presumably one which satisfactorily meets the conditions, environment, wages, and fulfillment that the individual job seeker expects. Such expectations of course is not only unrealistic, but I would daresay a selfish demand on others.

One’s worth as an employee is only commensurate with the value you provide to someone else, which is the main reason why certain skills demand higher wages in the marketplace. If you can generate billions of dollars for your company, you will likely be compensated at a greater rate than the maintenance workers who provide a necessary service, though of lesser value. If even the most talented of workers may be laid off, in the capitalistic economy, the worker must find an employer to whom he could provide the desired value either with the skills he currently possesses or he must acquire additional skills to increase his marketability.

As with any market, the trick is not to find what suits yourself, but what is valuable to others. This requires thinking beyond one’s immediate personal needs or desires for in order to make ourselves marketable we do not demand from our bosses or clients, but we strive to understand them to service them better.1 As any sales rep will tell you, if you don’t meet the needs of your customers, you won’t last very long.

It is the very self-interest of capitalism, with its market forces dictated by incentive and consumption, which ultimately compels us to understand each other as individuals better than any other system.


1. Or manipulate them into perceiving we are providing value, in which case the inherently subjective measure of value is still perceived.

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