de Tocqueville on Self Interest via Stiglitz…

de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being.

This is an excerpt taken from an article published by Vanity Fair and written by Nobel Prize Winning Economist Joe Stiglitz.


  1. Rory Barke says:

    Excellent – although I’m not sure that there is any ‘particular genius’ to American society.

    • I am not holding the US up as a paragon of virtue, as I suspect you know. But, the clarity of self interest created by the lack of a plan B, the difficulty of the terrain and the rather tricky relationships developed with incumbents did drive some fairly rapid community development…

  2. Rory Barke says:

    Or ‘peculiar genius’.


  1. […] is nothing new; Tocqueville was banging on about “self-interest properly understood” back in the 1830s. He argued, “The only way […]

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