Altruism, Freedom and Prosperity

The virtue of altruism is held in immeasurably high esteem in our society today. Selfless benevolence is regarded as the pinnacle of human endeavours, with societies and cultures often reserving their most coveted honours and elevations for people who have apparently demonstrated a level of unparalleled generosity.

Contrary to mainstream thought (and contrary to the thought of some free market proponents), there is nothing in either libertarianism or free market economics that disputes this view. Strictly speaking, libertarians qua libertarians neither promote nor condone any voluntary act; rather, they simply take the position that such acts should not be countered with violent repressions. Whether such acts are good in and of themselves is another matter. Further, economists can tell us that a free market will create net wealth, and that, empirically, increased wealth creation usually goes hand in hand with increased generosity. However, there is no part of their science that compels them to promote or encourage charity. Nevertheless, as private individuals, it is possible for libertarians and free market economists to regard specific, overt acts of kindness and generosity as worthy of praise and adulation. This is especially likely to be the case in instances where the donor has incurred the risk of a great material cost, such as wading into a strong river to save a drowning child.

Unfortunately, mainstream thought has extrapolated, erroneously, from the humanitarian nature of such individual, voluntary acts the conclusion that economic progress, the vanquishing of poverty and the path towards a greater and better society are themselves dependent upon altruism and self-sacrifice. As such, they seek to coalesce these virtues in an entire social system – a system, that is of course, managed by state fiat, such as the welfare state.

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