Freeman

ARTICLE

Selfishness

SEPTEMBER 01, 1981 by LUDWIG VON MISES

What a man does is always aimed at an improvement of his own state of satisfaction. In this sense—and in no other—we are free to use the term selfishness and to emphasize that action is necessarily always selfish. Even an action directly aiming at the improvement of other people’s conditions is selfish. The actor considers it as more satisfactory to himself to make other people eat than to eat himself. His uneasiness is caused by the awareness that other people are in want.

Whereas in a capitalist society selfishness incites everyone to the utmost diligence, in a socialist society it makes for inertia and laxity. The socialists may still babble about the miraculous change in human nature that the advent of socialism will effect, and about the substitution of lofty altruism for mean egotism. But they must no longer indulge in fables about the marvelous effects the selfishness of each individual will bring. Under such a socialist mode of production all personal incentives which selfishness provides under capitalism are removed, and a premium is put upon laziness and negligence.

The notions of selfishness and unselfishness as employed in such reasoning are self- contradictory and vain.

The politician is always selfish no matter whether he supports a popular program in order to get an office or whether he firmly clings to his own—unpopular—convictions and thus deprives himself of the benefits he could reap by betraying them.

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September 1981

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