“Rightly Understood Interests of Man”
A essay fragment by Michael Laurence
The term “rightly understood interest” is used, in the discussion of the logic of political economy, to characterize an aspect of the behavior of Homo conomicus, the hypothetical rational actor or entity engaged in commercial or “market” activity. The following illustration of its meaning will show it to be a rather obvious concept – though it nevertheless can be seen to have devastating implications:
If, for example, several individuals periodically derive a minimal level of nutrition from a “pie” created for them by one or several of their number, from materials supplied by others of the same, the “raw” interest, so-to-speak, of each of them might well be to take the whole pie for himself. As there is only one pie at a time and multiple individuals to be satisfied, the raw interest of all cannot be realized at once in this regard. If any one or few of them deprive or deceive others in regard to a share of the pie, violence may ensue with possible damage to pie creation. If the creators of the pie are not suitably rewarded, pie production may diminish or cease – likewise with the supply of materials and the persons responsible therefor. The group is confronted with a multi-dimensional challenge in trying to develop a formula for dividing the pie to at least the minimal satisfaction of all, while deterring misbehavior and motivating pie production. If such a formula is successfully achieved and basically adhered to, it may be said to serve the “rightly understood” as opposed to the elementary “raw” interest of each of the participant individuals.
This is all rather commonsensical and obvious, but, again, this reality has devastating consequences, when we “scale-up” this challenge to encompass the requirements for satisfaction of millions or billions of individuals. On this scale it is literally impossible to develop a formula for attending to the rightly understood interests of this number of advanced organisms confronting inescapably scarce resources. If prevarication does not serve to pacify the victims of inevitable deficiency, violence and death will be the frequent alternatives. Thus is humankind governed by none other than lies and violence, priests and warriors, as the record of human experience so richly reveals. Utopian hopes, measures toward a “New World Order,” even durable national stability, are thus without foundation, excluded by the logic and experience of political economy, at least until Jesus brings the Second Advent to town or the day those “mysterious material forces of production” finally turn up.
© 2000 Michael Ray Laurence
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