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Self interest

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Self interest

The most fundamental assumption underlying economic theories is that everyone acts in his/her own self-interest. Greed is pervasive, and is assumed to be for the good of all. Non-economists take issue with this assumption. The Occupiers (where are they now, as if I really care?) claimed that only the top 1% behaved in this way. Everyone else, according to these groups, do not act selfishly at all times. Most of the 99%ers supposedly care about others, if you believe the rhetoric of the Occupiers.

Yes, periodically we do care about others, particularly close family members and friends. Some times we even extend the boundaries of our concerns beyond this small group. But by and large, we are all greedy and selfish, probably even more so than the 1%ers.

Let me turn to some examples to make my point.

Rob Ford, the new mayor of the City of Toronto, was elected on a platform to cut expenses, balance the budget and limit future property tax increases. (No one really likes to pay more in taxes.) Of course, he was vilified as a despicable, right-wing fanatic by the people who did not vote for him. Fortunately, there were not enough of them.

We have now witnessed two rounds of meetings and public discussions regarding proposed budget cuts. To say that these meetings were a circus would be demeaning to circuses around the world.

The overwhelming majority of the people who made presentations, and calling them presentations is being extremely charitable, argued against cutting their pet projects. Some were willing to accept cuts elsewhere, and most agreed that the rich should pay to keep their projects alive.

There were some that opposed all cuts. They were unwilling to make any compromise, other than to have someone else pay to prevent spending cuts. And by the way, these “someone else” were the 1%ers.

Yes, the 99%ers, like their Occupier brethren, are quite prepared to have others pay for their entitlements. The continual debate in Canada about the role of the private sector and user fees in healthcare follows a similar script. Everyone would like something for nothing. On those rare occasions when a politician develops a spine and suggests that they do pay for the something, their wrath is harsh. But no, they are not selfish.

None of this is new. Politics is driven by self-interest and the belief that someone else will pay. Politics excels in the OPM (other people’s money) game.

I find the moral rectitude of selfish people who claim to act in the best interests of others (much like the Sunday morning evangelists) to be disgustingly hypocritical. At the same time that they complain about the horrors of some municipal employees losing their jobs, they continually search for lower prices.

Airfares continue to decline over time to appease the “need” of people for cheap fares. But lower airfares come at the expense of the incomes of airline employees. Little do the 99%ers, who travel, care that flight attendants, pilots, sales agents, ground crews, etc. are forced to make concessions on a regular basis to satisfy their demands for low fares.

Carbon taxes, yes, but not if I have to pay them. Pity the poor politician who lets the idea of a carbon tax roll from her/his lips. Remember poor Stephane Dion? No, let’s subsidize, with other people’s money, hair-brained green schemes, but don’t hike up the price to fill my car. These are the mottoes of these people.

Many of them have made Wal-Mart, Costco, and other discount retailers very successful, even though many jobs have been lost in Canada to satisfy their lust for low prices. Yes, they believe they talk a good story, when in fact they are oblivious to reality and their own selfishness.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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