We Serve Our Self Interests Best By Serving the Self Inerests of Others
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy Adam Smith’s important message: we serve our self interests best by serving the self-interests of others.
It is the mutual exchange of our offers that are in each party’s self interest, which creates the positive harmony of the commercial society. Exchange is not a zero-sum game: what I gain is not at the expense of what you gain – there is a mutual exchange that makes both of us better off than we would be without such an exchange.
I gain my dinner and you gain the wherewithal to acquire what you wish from third parties:
“Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer, and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of” (WN I.ii.2: p 26)
Leaving this part of Adam Smith’s exposition unsaid, leaves the reader with the idea that the blind search for one’s self-interested requirements somehow leads to the ‘greatest social good’, which is a short step from asserting that it is OK to act selfishly because social benefits, a view that was anathema to Adam Smith, the moral philosopher and contrary to his meaning.