More than 200 years ago, Adam Smith determined that economic self-interest advanced the wider commercial good as if led by an invisible hand. Such a self-seeker, he added, "frequently promotes (the interest) of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." But what happens when it's government that defines profit opportunities, and a country's culture deprecates commercial self-interest to the point that business leaders who "do good" are praised over those who "make good"?
If history is any guide, the current economic crisis will have two results. First, large-scale government intervention will make the crisis much worse and much longer. Secondly, businessmen will be subjected to criminal trials in which prosecutors, judges, and juries will set aside the rule of law in order to win convictions.
Editor's Note: Days after the Soviet Union collapsed, and shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, David Kelley delivered this lecture at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France. The event was a forum for classical liberals. The audience included some 350 students, more than 100 of whom were from Eastern Europe. The lecture, entitled “Altruism and Social Justice,” was about two types of social justice: egalitarian and welfare rights.  The capitalist system came of age in the century from 1750 to 1850 as a result of three revolutions. The first was a political revolution: the triumph of liberalism, particularly the doctrine of natural rights, and the view that government should be limited in its function to the protection of individual rights, including property rights. The second revolution was the birth of economic understanding, culminating in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Smith demonstrated that when individuals are left free to pursue their own economic interests, the result is not chaos but a spontaneous order, a market system in which the actions of individuals are coordinated and more wealth is produced than would be the case if government managed the economy. The third revolution was, of course, the Industrial Revolution. Technological innovation provided a lever that vastly multiplied man's powers of production. The effect was not only to raise standards of living for everyone, but to...
What has prompted people, over the course of three millennia, to look upon work and commerce as degrading and deceitful? Why have they instead tended to look upon the leisured and lordly as models of the good life?
The new century’s continuous procession of business scandals, collapsing bubbles, and financial meltdowns have left defenders of capitalism nonplussed. The business leaders who have been most prominent in the news are a peculiar mix of the incompetent, the sleazy, and the criminal, as the names Jack Grubman, Bernie Ebbers, John Rigas, Jeff Skilling, and Ken Lay attest.


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